Optical engineers utilize the properties of light to design components and equipment. While one might think of optics as only pertaining to creations regarding sight, such as lenses, telescopes and such, optics engineering has come to encompass many more avenues. Fiber optics is one such technological advancement. Using strands, slightly larger than a human hair, of high quality extruded glass or plastic as a means of transporting light waves is probably the simplest way to explain how fiber optics works.
Using Fiber Optics for Telecommunication
One of the most common uses for fiber optics today is in telecommunications or data transfer. In 1970, a team of researchers began experimenting with fused silica, a material of extreme purity with a high melting point and low refractive index. They created fiber optic wire capable of carrying 65,000 times more information than copper wire, through which information carried by a pattern of light waves could be decoded at a destination even a thousand miles away. Since then, we have seen many advances in fiber optics relating to data speed and quantity, as well as quality. Today more than 80 percent of the world’s long-distant traffic is carried over optical fiber cables. Due to their size and flexibility, optical fibers can be bundled just like that of standard metal cabling. With optical fibers though, there is no electric or magnetic interference, which is one of the greatest advantages over their predecessor. Optical fibers can also carry transmissions over great distances and at higher bandwidths with less loss of signal. This combined with their larger capacity for optical data transmission; make them superior to any electric cable. On the downside, they are more delicate than standard cables. While they are flexible, they are prone to sharp bends and will break. They also need precise alignment and kept to a high degree of cleanliness.
Fiber optics used for light sources is another widely used application. The ability to create bright light in many singular places from one light source is made possible by utilizing individual strands from a bundle attached to the light source. This application is mainly used in a decorative setting such as signs, toys or lit Christmas trees. The ability to bend and contain light has also found a use in the construction fields to route sunlight from the roof to other parts of a structure, thus keeping energy usage down. When used with a spectrometer, light can be manually manipulated to analyze substances and light waves. Light can be “moved” to a substance when that substance cannot be placed inside the spectrometer itself.
Optical engineering, with its many continuing advances, is one of the key components in how fast technology has come as well as how far it can go.