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Specialty Fibers and Waveguides Enable Groundbreaking Applications

Photonics Spectra
Mar 2004
Photonics Spectra editors

Although we are beyond the optical fiber boom for the telecommunications sector, specialty fibers and related waveguiding technologies continue to show remarkable potential. In this section, three manufacturers discuss the applications of some of these photonic products.

Those applications are diverse. Fiber and hollow silica waveguides promise to expand their transmission windows, finally enabling their use with CO2 laser radiation, which suggests immediate applications in medicine. Laser surgeries that currently require invasive procedures to accommodate the optical systems used to direct mid-IR radiation may instead employ flexible fibers or waveguides that can be inserted into the patient via a small incision. Further applications include spectroscopy, materials processing and printing.

Moreover, specialty fibers seem poised to compete with traditional solid-state lasing media in the industrial laser market, and they should enable the development of high-power pulsed fiber amplifiers. Fiber-based devices, which display a higher pump conversion efficiency and superior beam quality at higher powers than today’s diode-pumped solid-state lasers, may offer smaller form factors than today’s systems, as well as lower assembly costs.

Time will tell what impact these developments in fiber and hollow waveguides will have, both technologically and economically. Nonetheless, it is clear that research and development will remain vibrant as scientists in photonics continue to investigate novel means of confining and directing electromagnetic radiation.


GLOSSARY
optical fiber
A thin filament of drawn or extruded glass or plastic having a central core and a cladding of lower index material to promote total internal reflection (TIR). It may be used singly to transmit pulsed optical signals (communications fiber) or in bundles to transmit light or images.  
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