Material lets fiber optics go electronic

Feb. 6, 2012 at 4:14 PM

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa., Feb. 6 (UPI) -- U.S. researchers say they've made new crystalline materials that allow an optical fiber to have integrated, high-speed electronic functions.

Researchers at Penn State say optical fibers with such capabilities could lead to improved telecommunications and other hybrid optical and electronic technologies, improved laser technology, and more-accurate remote-sensing devices.

Previously, exchanging information between optics and electronics involved sometimes-clumsy methods of bringing optical fibers and electronic chips together, they said.

"The optical fiber is usually a passive medium that simply transports light, while the chip is the piece that performs the electrical part of the equation," chemist John Badding said in a university release Sunday.

Ideally, Badding said, rather than coupling the optical fiber to the chip a "smart fiber" would have the electronic functions already built in.

Researchers used high-pressure chemistry techniques to deposit semiconducting materials directly, layer by layer, into tiny holes in optical fibers.

"The big breakthrough here is that we don't need the whole chip as part of the finished product," said Pier J.A. Sazio of the University of Southampton in Britain, one of the leaders of the research team.

"We have managed to build the junction -- the active boundary where all the electronic action takes place -- right into the fiber."

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