A new device to make laser-to-fiber and fiber-to-fiber connections within optical fiber packages has been named by R & D Magazine as one of the 100 most technologically significant products introduced into the market in 2006.
The device, based on research by faculty and graduate students in Penn State’s International Center for Actuators and Transducers in the Materials Research Institute, offers an economically viable method of aligning and realigning optical fibers.
The optical fiber infrastructure that allows the high-speed transmission of data in modern communications relies on the precise connection of lasers to fiber, as well as the multiple connections of fiber to fiber across tens of thousands of miles of transmission lines. The expense of connecting high speed optical fiber for the potential millions of individual users, the so-called “last mile” problem, has slowed the spread of high speed optical transmission to the home computer, especially in the U.S. market.
Fiber connectors typically come in passive and active systems. Passive connectors are used in the field for low data transmission multimode fiber and use a guide to hold fibers in place. Although relatively inexpensive, passive connectors do not have the microscopic precision required to align high data single mode fiber cores.
Active connectors are expensive and bulky systems that use lenses and camera to align fibers, which are then held in place by applying an epoxy resin or by soldering or laser welding. Out in the field, these fiber connections can degrade from moisture or seasonal changes in temperature.
The Penn State device, called an Integrated Fiber Alignment Package (IFAP), is designed to offer the precision alignment of expensive active connector systems with the convenience of passive connectors that hold fibers in place mechanically. In addition the IFAP makes realignment of fibers simple.
The IFAP uses an inexpensive and highly durable low temperature co-fired ceramics package to house a piezoelectric micromotor. The motor controls a slider that holds and adjusts the position of the fiber with 2-degrees of movement and with 100 nanometer precision. The motor is controlled by an external drive circuitry with optical intensity feedback, which allows precise alignment, and if necessary realignment of the fibers in the field. The external drive circuitry can be connected to a laptop computer and the adjustments made using the computer’s mouse or keyboard.
Low temperature co-fired ceramic (LTCC) technology is widely used in electronics packaging for its durability and design flexibility. The Center for Dielectric Studies and the Keck Smart Materials Integration Laboratory, both part of the Materials Research Institute, provided the expertise in developing the LTCC packaging. The International Center for Actuators and Transducers developed the piezoelectric micromotor and external drive circuitry. Micromechatronics of State College, a spin-out company based on Penn State research, is marketing the system. The co-inventors are Prof. Kenji Uchino and Prof. Clive Randall, both of Penn State, Prof. Richard Eitel, University of Kentucky and former postdoctoral researcher in the Materials Research Institute, and former graduate student Seung Ho Park, whose Ph.D. thesis was based in part on the IFAP work.
The complete list of R & D 100 Awards will be published in the September 2007 issue of R & D Magazine. A Gala Awards Banquet will be held in October at the Grand Ballroom of Chicago’s Navy Pier for the winners.