Physicists at the University of Bath have installed a precision machine to make optical fibres that could be used for applications ranging from diagnosing cancer to engineering jet engines.
The fibre drawing tower, the second to be installed at the University, uses a precisely controlled furnace to melt and stretch glass optical fibres to the diameter of a human hair.
The glass fibres, designed with a honeycomb structure of microscopic holes running along their length, can have different optical properties depending on their structure.
White light is made of all the colours in the spectrum, which you see when it shines through a prism.
The different wavelengths of light are perceived as different colours: for example red light has a long wavelength, whereas blue light has a shorter wavelength.
The research team at Bath has helped to develop optical fibres that change the wavelength, and therefore colour, of the light that you shine down them.
Dr William Wadsworth, Director of the University’s Centre for Photonics & Photonic Materials, explained: “Generally lasers are high energy light sources of a single colour. However the supercontinuum fibre converts red laser light into white light, a remarkable process which is made possible by the high intensity of a pulsed laser beam.
“This is useful in applications where you need to make a laser of several different colours, such as in medical scanning for cancers or using a confocal microscope in biology.
“This is a unique cross between a light bulb and a laser that simply didn’t exist ten years ago.”
The new tower will not only double the capacity to make fibres, but can also use a broader temperature range, meaning that the scientists can make finer, more delicate structures and use a greater variety of materials.
Dr Wadsworth added: “Most of the fibres we make here are made of silica based glass. However with our new facility we will be able to investigate a greater range of materials and hopefully discover new applications for the fibres.
“Bath is one of only three universities in the UK to have this facility and so this new tower will ensure that we stay at the forefront of photonics research.”