Fiber optics have become the basis of modern data transmission, used for everything from telecom and internet services to government and aerospace applications. This is because compared to other technologies, they are capable of transmitting larger amounts of data at higher speeds and over longer distances.
However, the structure of optical fibers can occasionally lead to network failures, as twisted or bent cables can interfere with information transfer. To tackle this problem, scientists at the University of Bath in the UK have designed a new type of fiber optic, aiming to improve the robustness of these networks.
An ordinary optical fiber consists of three elements: the core, the cladding and the coating.
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The core is in the center and provides a path for light (the medium through which data is transmitted) to travel. The cladding keeps the light in the core and controls the direction in which it travels, bouncing as if reflected by a mirror. Finally, the coating acts as a primary buffer and a mantle envelops the entire structure.
“Anytime you manufacture a fiber optic cable, there are inevitably slight variations in the physical structure of the fiber. When deployed in a network, the fiber can also become twisted and bent,” says physics PhD student Nathan Roberts, who led the research. said.
These distortions can obstruct the optimal path of the light and lead to degradation of the information as it moves between the transmitter and receiver.
“One way to counteract these variations and defects is to ensure that the fiber design process includes a real focus on robustness. This is where we found the ideas of topology useful,” added Roberts.
Topology is the mathematical study of the properties of geometric objects that remain unchanged despite deformations, twists and stretches. It has already been applied in physics and light research, but the Bath scientists are the first to use it in optical fibers.
The physicists have created a fiber that uses topological principles by adding several light-conducting cores in the fiber, which are connected to each other in a spiral. Light can still travel between these nuclei, but remains trapped in the edge due to the topological design. These so-called “edge states” are shielded from disorder in the overall structure.
“By using optical fibers with a topological design, researchers will have the tools to avoid and prevent signal degradation effects by building inherently robust photonic systems,” said Dr. Anton Souslov, co-author of the studyexplained.
The researchers are currently looking for industrial partners to further develop their concept, which could benefit not only existing communications, but also future quantum networks.
“We have shown that you can wrap kilometers of topological fibers around a coil. We envision a quantum internet where information will be robustly transmitted across continents using topological principles,” Roberts noted.
Compared to conventional computers, quantum technology is expected to be much more powerful when it comes to storing and processing information, while promising an unparalleled (yet) level of data security – a potential breakthrough for information networks.
However, the quantum states of light with transfer information can be easily influenced by the environment, posing a significant challenge. This study may pave the way for using topological design to preserve quantum information in optical fibers.
You can find the research here.