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Crossing a critical threshold

Researchers from Lehigh University, Japan and Canada have advanced a step closer to the dream of all-optical data transmission by building and demonstrating what they call the "world's first fully functioning single crystal waveguide in glass."

In an article published in Scientific Reports, a Nature publication, the group said it had employed ultrafast femtosecond lasers to produce a three-dimensional single crystal capable of guiding light waves through glass with little loss of light.

The article, published May 19, is titled "Direct laser-writing of ferroelectric single-crystal waveguide architectures in glass for 3D integrated optics."

The article's lead author, Adam Stone, received his Ph.D. in materials science and engineering from Lehigh in 2014. The co-authors are Himanshu Jain, professor of materials science and engineering, and Volkmar Dierolf, professor of physics, both at Lehigh, and researchers from Kyoto University in Japan and Polytechnique Montreal in Canada.

The group says its achievement will boost ongoing efforts to develop photonic integrated circuits (PICs) that are smaller, cheaper, more energy-efficient and more reliable than current networks that use discrete optoelectronic components—waveguides, splitters, modulators, filters, amplifiers—to transport optical signals.

“A major trend in optics,” the researchers write, “has been a drive toward…replacing systems of large discrete components that provide individual functions with compact and multifunctional PICs, in much the same way that integration of electronics has driven the impressive advances of modern computer systems.”

“Other groups have made crystal in glass but were not able to demonstrate quality,” Jain explains. “With the quality of our crystal, we have crossed the threshold for the idea to be useful. As a result, we are now exploring the development of novel devices for optical communication in collaboration with a major company.”

Researchers at Lehigh have worked for more than ten years on the project, says Jain. The project got its start in Lehigh’s Center for Optical Technologies (which has since merged with the Sherman Fairchild Center for Solid State Studies to form the Center for Photonics and Nanoelectronics) with support from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development. Subsequently, NSF has provided funding for the work at Lehigh and, through Lehigh’s International Materials Institute for New Functionalities in Glass, for the international collaborations as well. Jain is the director of the IMI-NFG.

The article’s other authors are Kiyotaka Miura, Kazuyuki Hirao, Masaaki Sakakura and Yasuhiko Shimotsuma of Kyoto University, and Raman Kashyap and Jerome Lapointe of Montreal Polytechnique.

The project was guided by Jain and Dierolf.

Read the full story at the Lehigh University News Center.

-Kurt Pfitzer is a writer with Lehigh University Media Relations.

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