The thin glass threads of conventional optical fibers underpin our information-driven society, moving data in the form of light pulses at breakneck speeds around the globe. Now, a new type of optical fiber, called photonic crystal fiber (PCF), is set to revolutionize the performance of fiber-optic devices. PCF contains a periodic arrangement of small air holes that can manipulate the behavior of photons, enabling control over the transmission of light in ways never seen before.
PCF has a number of important uses besides telecommunications, particularly in the field of chemical sensing. By filling the micro-sized cavities of PCF with small amounts of liquid sample, scientists can identify and quantify which molecules are present through evanescent field absorption spectroscopy—a technique that measures how a propagating wave of light interacts with specific chemical structural groups. Because PCF is an extremely efficient light trap, these fibers have the potential to greatly boost signal strength and reduce noise during adsorption experiments.
Xia Yu from the Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology at A*STAR and her Singapore-based co-workers have now developed a PCF with twice the sensitivity of typical optical absorption instruments, based on an array of hexagonally shaped air holes1. The small size and highly accurate readings of this new fiber make it suitable for microchip-sized medical devices, such as implantable sensors.
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