Clemson University scientists have made a practical optical fiber with a silicon core, employing the same methods that are used to develop all-glass fibers. The development could make silicon fibers viable alternatives to glass fibers, and help increase efficiency and decrease power consumption in computers and other systems that integrate photonic and electronic devices.
For some light wavelengths, a core made of pure crystalline silicon, like the one developed by the Clemson team, would carry signals more effectively than glass. Additionally, crystalline silicon exhibits certain nonlinear properties that are many orders of magnitude larger than for conventional silica glass. This would, for example, allow for the amplification of a light signal or for the shifting of light from one wavelength to another.
"In essence, we've married optoelectronics with optical fibers," said John Ballato, a Clemson professor and one of the researchers. "In the past, we've needed one structure to process light and another to carry it. With a silicon fiber, for the first time, we have the ability to greatly enhance the functionality in one fiber."