Watch the new episode of Invented Arizona, where we speak with Robert Norwood about the development of the electro-optic waveguide modulator.
In the optics world, modulators are used to turn light on and off, just like a switch. This process is most often used in optical communications, one of the core technologies that drives the Internet.
Applying an electric field to the modulator determines whether light comes out the other end of the modulator or if it stops, a process that can occur up to 25-100 billion times per second.
A primary goal is to have as much light coming through the modulator as possible when the switch is on. The more light that gets through the modulator, the farther that light can go on the Internet before needing a boost. With the technologies in use today, achieving quality output without insertion loss - “the loss of power that you see when you insert the device into a system” - is quite challenging .
Robert Norwood, Ph.D. and Nasser Peyghambarian, Ph.D. both professors in the University of Arizona College of Optical Sciences, collaborated to address this challenge and have developed an electro-optic waveguide modulator with low insertion loss. To do so, Norwood and Peyghambarian combined novel electro-optic polymers with glass waveguides, optical circuits that are similar to optical fiber. The glass waveguides are used to provide a great match between the incoming optical fiber and the entrance to the modulator.
“It’s a simple connection,” said Norwood, “but it’s also very difficult to achieve in a way that gets all of the light in and out of the modulator.” This simple connection reduces drive voltage and insertion loss while extending device lifetime.
Aside from use in the Internet, this technology is also applicable in spaces like radio frequency photonics where radio waves, like those going to and coming from cell phones, are detected and translated to signal on an optical fiber. Norwood and Peyghambarian’s technology is also well suited for radar applications in the military, electric field sensing and more.
Learn more about this technology:
Learn more about other optics technologies from the University of Arizona:
 “Introduction to Optical Fibers, DB, Attenuation and Measurements.” Cisco, 25 May 2017, www.cisco.com/c/en/us/support/docs/optical/synchronous-digital-hierarchy...(link is external).