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3 West North
3 West North
Work in progress
Work in progress
3wn completed
3wn completed
Bottom two photos by Nic Delves-Broughton

Press Release - 07 July 2005

3 West North and photonics

The University’s new building, 3 West North has the most advanced research facilities in the important area of photonic crystal fibres in the country.

The building has a drawing tower used to construct kilometres of the photonic crystal fibres each year, as well as various labs with equipment including lasers, lathes and furnaces worth hundreds of thousands of pounds that will allow vital research to be carried out.

Photonic crystal fibres are typically the width of a human hair and can be a kilometre in length. Yet running the whole length of this thin tube is a series of holes which give them the remarkable property of being able to imprison light and put it to use.

In order to create the photonic crystal fibre, the department’s technicians begin work on a much shorter and wider piece of flexible silica glass which are stacked on top of each other into a honeycomb structure and linked together. This silica glass is then heated and stretched so that it thins to the width of a human hair, and its length grows to many metres or even several kilometres.

The important point is that the original structure of holes running through the material is kept, but that the holes themselves are as tiny as a few tens of nanometres – that’s less than one hundred thousandth of a millimetre. Light begins to behave in unexpected ways when it interacts with objects this tiny.

The photonics part of the 3 West North building is not only dedicated to creating photonic crystal fibre; it is also an important area for using this fibre in experiments.

One such experiment converts light of one colour from a laser into a broad spectrum of light simply, in a process called a super continuum. To convert the laser light, it is first altered into low-energy pulses of light that are fired into the photonic crystal fibre, whose properties change the light and broaden its spectrum so that the colours of the rainbow can be seen. Being able to create this broad spectrum of light is very useful for tasks such as the analysis of gases to see which chemicals they are made of (as if often done when there is a pollution leak) and the photonics work will make this task much cheaper.

The Photonics and Photonics Materials Group was recently awarded a grant to further its research. Eight researchers started work on the four-year project in April to carry out fundamental work which will have an impact in many areas of engineering and technology, including light sources, optical telecommunications, ultra-violet light and x-ray generation, atomic and quantum physics and astronomical imaging.


For more information on photonics, click the links on the left-hand column of this page.

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