An improved method of fabrication of Bragg gratings in optical fibers combines the best features of two prior methods: one that involves the use of a phase mask and one that involves interference between the two coherent laser beams. The improved method affords flexibility for tailoring Bragg wavelengths and bandwidths over wide ranges.

A Bragg grating in an optical fiber is a periodic longitudinal variation in the index of refraction of the fiber core. The spatial period (Bragg wavelength) is chosen to obtain enhanced reflection of light of a given wavelength that would otherwise propagate relatively unimpeded along the core. Optionally, the spatial period of the index modulation can be made to vary gradually along the grating (such a grating is said to be "chirped";) in order to obtain enhanced reflection across a wavelength band, the width of which is determined by the difference between the maximum and minimum Bragg wavelengths.

In the present method as in both prior methods, a Bragg grating is formed by exposing an optical fiber to an ultraviolet-light interference field. The Bragg grating coincides with the pattern of exposure of the fiber core to ultraviolet light; in other words, the Bragg grating coincides with the interference fringes. Hence, the problem of tailoring the Bragg wavelength and bandwidth is largely one of tailoring the interference pattern and the placement of the fiber in the interference pattern. In the prior two-beam interferometric method, a single laser beam is split into two beams, which are subsequently recombined to produce an interference pattern at the location of an optical fiber. In the prior phase-mask method, a phase mask is used to diffract a laser beam mainly into two first orders, the interference between which creates the pattern to which an optical fiber is exposed.

The prior two-beam interferometric method offers the advantage that the period of the interference pattern can be adjusted to produce gratings over a wide range of Bragg wavelengths, but offers the disadvantage that success depends on precise alignment and high mechanical stability. The prior phase mask method affords the advantages of compactness of equipment and relative insensitivity to both misalignment and vibration, but does not afford adjustability of the Bragg wavelength.

The present method affords both the flexibility of the prior two-beam interferometric method and the compactness and stability of the prior phase-mask method. In this method (see figure), a laser beam propagating along the x axis is normally incident on a phase mask that lies in the (y, z) plane. The phase of light propagating through the mask is modulated with a spatial periodicity, p, along the y axis chosen to diffract the laser light primarily to first order at the angle γ. (The zero-order laser light propagating along the x axis can be used for alignment and thereafter suppressed during exposure of the fiber.) The diffracted light passes through a concave cylindrical lens, which converts the flat diffracted wave fronts to cylindrical ones, as though the light emanated from a line source. Then two parallel flat mirrors recombine the diffracted beams to form an interference field equivalent to that of two coherent line sources at positions A and B (virtual sources).

The interference pattern is a known function of the parameters of the apparatus and of position (x, y) in the interference field. Hence, the tilt, wavelength, and chirp of the Bragg grating can be chosen through suitable adjustments of the apparatus and/or of the position and orientation of the optical fiber. In particular, the Bragg wavelength can be adjusted by moving the fiber along the x axis, and the bandwidth can be modified over a wide range by changing the fiber tilt angle or by moving the phase mask and/or the fiber.

Alignment is easy because the zero order beam defines the x axis. The interference is relatively stable and insensitive to the mechanical vibration because of the high symmetry and compactness of the apparatus, the fixed positions of the mirrors and lens, and the consequent fixed positions of the two virtual line sources, which are independent of the translations of the phase mask and the laser relative to the lens.

This work was done by Joseph Grant of Marshall Space Flight Center and Ying Wang and Anup Sharma of Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University. This invention is owned by NASA, and a patent application has been filed. For further information, contact Mitch Ward, MSFC Commercialization Project Lead, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Refer to MFS-31596.