Fiber Optics


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Fiber Optics

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Bundles of hollow glass tubes, each no more than 1/200 of an inch, are threatening to remake the world. Fiber optics technology employs light signals to carry information, a vast improvement in power and efficiency over electricity. The applications opened up through fiber optics have already revolutionized telecommunications, and may have a similar effect in medicine, computers, television, and other industries.

So how can a hollow tube carry information, let alone hundreds of megabytes worth of it? Information that needs to be sent is first converted into a light signal with a fiber optics transmitter, which can rely on one or a number of light wavelengths, or colors. The light then travels along the inside of the tube, remaining inside due to a physical property called total internal reflection, sometimes up to 100 miles before the need for regeneration.

Applications of Fiber Optics
Now a $30 billion-a-year industry, fiber optics finds uses in a wide variety of applications. The most widely-used function for fiber optics in the modern world is in telecommunications. Most long-range telephone conversations rely on fiber optics in some way, and the reliance on the technology is only growing.

Fiber optics promises to spread to other methods of transmitting data. Major initiatives are planned to employ fiber optics for cable television and internet service connected directly to the home. Initial costs for the consumer may be high, but the immense improvement in service and the lower upkeep costs will keep the technology attractive. In fact, fiber optics is already used by major companies to transmit the sum total of the data used for television and the Internet; it is merely a further step to extend the technology directly to the home.

The transmission of light through optical fibers can also find direct use, instead of as intermediary for sending digital information. Modern medicine has become increasingly reliant on the endoscope, an image-transmission scope that uses fiber optics to see inside the body with minimally invasive surgery. The technology has also found use for scopes in other industries and as a lighting source.

Technology of Fiber Optics
The Nobel Prize in Physics awarded in 2005 for work in optics highlights the tremendous interest in that subject area within scientific circles. A large part of this is due to its relevance to digital communication and the great demand for better data-transmission techniques. Fiber optics have long been considered revolutionary in the world of communications and researchers have every motivation to seek out the next big improvement.

One particular feat intriguingly combined multiple uses of fiber optics technology. In 2001, doctors in New York removed the gall bladder of an elderly woman in Strasbourg, France, which has been coined the Lindbergh Operation. The operation relied both on an endoscope and the transmission of the signal by fiber optics.

The data transmission capability of fiber optics has reached stunning heights. In 1998, Bell Labs conducted an experiment with a soliton laser in which they were able to transmit 100 simultaneous optical signals, each with a transmission capacity of 10 gigabytes per second. This theoretically allows a single optical fiber to carry a terabyte of data per second, a mind-boggling rate. Fiber optics' sheer capacity for data transmission is a clear demonstration of its future power.

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