Optical Waveguide Theory
2.1 Introduction

An optical waveguide is defined as any dielectric structure that is capable of transporting electromagnetic energy. They are characterized by a central region of refractive index (the core - nco ) which is higher than that of the surrounding region of normally uniform index (the cladding - ncl ). In general, the light guidance maybe treated as a consequence of the total internal reflection of the light from the interface between the core and the cladding. In this chapter, some basic concepts of optical waveguides will be briefly reviewed, in particular, that of the 3-D rectangular waveguides.


Waveguide Parameters

The propagation characteristics [5] of waveguides can be expressed in terms of the parameters discussed in the following subsections. Figure 2.1 shows some of the typical waveguide cross-sections that will be encountered in this thesis.


2.1 Introduction


ncl nco 2ρ

ncl nco 2ρ x (a) (b) 2ρ y

ncl nco


Figure 2.1: Typical waveguide cross-sections: (a ) step-index square-core buried channel
waveguide (BCW); (b ) rectangular core with the characteristic dimension defined by the √ geometrical mean ρ = ρx ρy . (Diagram adapted from Ladouceur & Love (1996) [5])

Characteristic Dimension The characteristic dimension, ρ, of the waveguide cross-section is defined as the linear dimension that quantifies the transverse variation in index of the waveguiding structure. As illustrated in Figure 2.1, ρ corresponds to the half-side of the squarecore waveguide and the geometrical mean of the half-side lengths of the rectangular core waveguides.

Relative Index Difference The relative index difference or relative profile height, ∆, is defined as:


2 n2 co − ncl 2n2 co


where nco is the core index and ncl is the uniform cladding index of the waveguide. In the case of weakly guiding waveguides, where nco ≈ ncl and hence, ∆ << 1, the above expression can be approximated by:

2.1 Introduction



nco − ncl nco


Waveguide Parameter The degree of guidance or waveguide parameter, V , is a dimensionless quantity, defined as: √ 2π 2π 2 1 2 ρnco 2∆ = ρ(n2 co − ncl ) λ λ

V =


where ρ refers to the characteristic dimension, ∆ is the profile height and λ is the
2 2 operating wavelength of the source of excitation. The quantity (n2 co − ncl ) is also

commonly known as the numerical aperture.

Normalized Index Profile The refractive index profile n(x, y ) may also be expressed in a more convenient normalized form as shown below:

n2 (x, y ) = n2 co [1 − 2∆f (x, y )]


where ∆ is the profile height and f (x, y ) is the normalized index profile.


Fresnel Equations: Propagation of Light across Media

The propagation of light from one medium to another is governed by the laws of reflection and refraction. As illustrated in Figure 2.2, the two media with different

2.1 Introduction refractive indices are separated at the boundary given by the plane y = 0. In this case, we assume a linearly-polarized plane wave from the half space y > 0 impinging upon the boundary. The plane of incidence is the x − y plane as shown. The two different cases are discussed below:


y Ei Hi n1 n2 θt Ht
Figure 2.2: Reflection and refraction of an electromagnetic wave at a boundary between
two dielectric media. The illustrated wave is polarized with the E vector parallel to the plane of incidence. (Diagram adapted from Duffin (1990) [6])

Er θi θr Hr x Et

Transverse Electric (TE) polarizations In the case of TE -polarized light, the electric vector is perpendicular to the plane of incidence (i.e. the E -field is in the z-direction). The reflection coefficient r⊥ (the ratio Er /Ei ) and the transmission coefficient t⊥ (the ratio Et /Ei ) are given as:
2 cos θi − ( n ) cos θt Er sin(θi − θt ) n1 =− r⊥ = = n2 Ei cos θi + ( n1 ) cos θt sin(θi + θt )


2.1 Introduction


t⊥ =

2 cos θi 2 ) cos θt cos θi + ( n n1


Transverse Magnetic (TM) polarizations In the case of TM -polarized light, the magnetic vector is perpendicular to the plane of incidence (i.e. the B -field is in the z-direction). Similarly, the reflection coefficient r and the transmission coefficient t are given as:

r =

n2 n1

cos θi − cos θt n2 ( n1 ) cos θi + cos θt


tan(θi − θt ) tan(θi + θt )


t =

2 (n ) cos θi n1

2 cos θi + cos θt



Critical Angle & Total Internal Reflection

As shown in Figure 2.3(a), a plane wave incident at an angle θ1 on two semi-infinite media with refractive indices n1 and n2 , such that n1 > n2 will result in a plane reflected beam in medium 1 and a transmitted beam in medium 2. The angle of the transmitted beam is defined by Snell’s law :

n1 sin θ1 = n2 sin θ2


At the critical angle, θ1 = θc , the transmitted wave is parallel to the interface (i.e. θ2 =
π ) 2

as shown in Figure 2.3(b). The critical angle [8] for the boundary

separating two optical media is defined as the smallest angle of incidence, in the medium of greater index, for which the light is totally reflected.

2.1 Introduction


Incident Wave

Reflected Wave

n1 n2 Interface

Incident Wave n1 n2


Reflected Wave Interface Boundary Wave


Transmitted Wave

Incident Wave n1 n2

Reflected Wave Interface

Figure 2.3: Reflection and refraction of a parallel beam: (a ) Incident light on an interface between two media; (b ) Incident light on an interface at a critical angle; (c ) Total reflection beyond the critical angle. (Diagram adapted from Syms & Cozens (1992) [7])

θc = sin−1 (

n2 ) n1


For an interface between a polymer (e.g. PMMA) and air, where n1 = 1.490 and n2 = 1.00, the critical angle is ∼42.1◦ . However, there will be no critical angle when the wave is incident from the lower index side (i.e. if the values of n1 and n2 are exchanged).

For, θ1 > θc , Total Internal Reflection (TIR) occurs as shown in Figure 2.3(c). TIR is really ‘total’ in the sense that no energy is lost upon reflection. However,

2.1 Introduction in any real devices utilizing this property, there will always be small losses due to absorption in the medium and due to reflections at the surfaces where the light enters and leaves the medium. Nonetheless, TIR presents a mechanism for confining a wave in one region of space.



Mode Propagation Constant β & Effective Indices of Modes N

Consider the case of the guided mode in the ray-optics picture of a 2-D waveguide as shown in Figure 2.4(a). In this case where θs < θ < 90◦ , the light is confined in the guiding layer by the total internal reflections at both the upper and lower interfaces and propagates along the guide in a zig-zag path.

Cover/Cladding Guide/Core Substrate



nco ns

ko n co



kz = β

Figure 2.4: (a) Zig-zag wave picture of “modes” propagating along a 2-D waveguide in
ns the case of the guided mode where θs = sin−1 ( n ) < θ < 90◦ . (b) Wave vector diagram. co

(Diagrams adapted from Nishihara (1985) [9])

In the wave-optics picture, the modes are characterized by their propagation constants. As shown in Figure 2.4(b), the plane wave propagation constant in the

2.2 Weak Guidance Approximation wave-normal direction is defined as k0 nco where k0 =
2π λ

13 and λ is the free space

wavelength of light. The propagation constants along the x and z directions are:

kx = k0 nco cos θ kz = k0 nco sin θ = β

(2.11) (2.12)

For lossless waveguides, kz = β where β is equivalent to the mode propagation constant in an infinite medium with an index of nco sin θ. Hence, the effective indices of modes, N, is defined as:


β = nco sin θ k0


The effective index, N, specifies the ratio of the wave velocity in a vacuum to that in the propagating direction (z ) of the waveguide. Hence, the guided mode propagating along the z direction sees the effective index N.


Weak Guidance Approximation

Maxwell’s equations (or the vector wave equations) for electro-magnetic fields are the basic starting point of any optical waveguiding analysis. However, due to the coupling of the three scalar components of both the electric and magnetic field vectors, the equations become very complex and as a result, there are only a few exact analytical solutions [10].

In this work, our waveguides normally have a slight variation of the refractive index over their cross-sections (i.e. ∆ → 0, the core and cladding indices become very similar) due to the nature of the fabrication process which will be discussed in the

2.2 Weak Guidance Approximation respective chapters. This slight variation in the index allows the vector equations for the electromagnetic fields to be replaced by a single scalar equation involving only a single component of the electric field, with negligible loss of accuracy. This simplification is known as the weak-guidance approximation [11, 12].



Vector Wave Equation

For a source-free, dielectric media, Maxwell’s equations can be expressed in the following form [10]:

∇ × E = ik (


) H ) E
1 2

1 2

(2.14) (2.15)

∇ × H = −ikn (


using rationalized MKS units, where


and µo are, respectively, the free space
2π λ

dielectric constant and permittivity; k =

is the free-space wavenumber; λ is

the wavelength of light in free space; and n is the refractive index. By taking the curl of Equation 2.14 and using Equation 2.15 to eliminate the magnetic field, the vector wave equation for the electric field is obtained:

∇ × ∇ × E − k 2 n2 E = 0


The refractive index profile is needed to determine the propagation along the waveguide. Assuming, for simplicity, that the waveguides are isotropic, non-absorbing and translationally invariant, the refractive index profile merely exhibits transverse dependence (n = n(x, y )). This allows the E and H field vectors to be written in separable forms [5]:

2.2 Weak Guidance Approximation


E(x, y, z ) = e(x, y ) exp(iβz ) exp(−iwt) H(x, y, z ) = h(x, y ) exp(iβz ) exp(−iwt)

(2.17) (2.18)

where e and h are vector expressions which contain the transverse dependence of the electric and magnetic fields respectively; βz refers to the accumulated phase change at a distance z along the waveguide in terms of the propagation constant β ; and −iwt refers to the monochromatic time dependence in terms of the source frequency w and time t.

Equations 2.17 and 2.18 may be further re-expressed to distinguish the longitudinal scalar components of the e and h fields (denoted as ez (x,y) and hz (x,y)) and the corresponding transverse vector components e⊥ (x, y ) and h⊥ (x, y ).

e(x, y ) = e⊥ (x, y ) + ez (x, y )ˆ z h(x, y ) = h⊥ (x, y ) + hz (x, y )ˆ z

(2.19) (2.20)

where the ˆ z refers to the unit vector parallel to the z axis. Based on the above definition for the fields, Equation 2.17 may be substituted into Equation 2.16 to give a more suitable form:

2 2 2 (∇2 z)e · ∇⊥ ln n2 (x, y ) ⊥ + k n (x, y ) − β )e = −(∇⊥ + iβ ˆ


where the divergence condition ∇(n2 E) = 0 has been used and ∇2 ⊥ is the transverse vector Laplacian operator.

Using Equation 2.19, the e field can be decomposed into its respective transverse and longitudinal components:

2.2 Weak Guidance Approximation


2 2 2 2 (∇2 ⊥ + k n (x, y ) − β )e⊥ = −∇⊥ e⊥ · ∇⊥ ln n (x, y )

(2.22) (2.23)

ez =

i ∇⊥ · e⊥ + (e⊥ · ∇⊥ ) ln n2 (x, y ) β

Despite the simpler form of the wave equation (Equation 2.22), it is impossible to obtain any analytical solution for the transverse component of the vector electric field for the types of profiles and cross-sections encountered in planar waveguides. A numerical solution (for the vector wave equations) would also be complicated due to the implicit coupling of the components of the field in this equation. Fortunately, a simplification based on the weakly-guiding nature of these waveguides offers a solution to this dilemma.


Scalar Wave Equation

To perform a perturbation expansion of the transverse vector wave equation (i.e. Equation 2.22), this equation is first re-expressed in terms of the normalized index profile f (x, y ), the profile height ∆, the degree of guidance V and the characteristic dimension ρ as discussed earlier in § 2.1.1:

2 2 2 (ρ2 ∇2 ⊥ + U − V f )e⊥ = −ρ∇⊥ e⊥ · ρ∇⊥ ln n


where the normalized core mode parameter U is related to the propagation constant by:

2 1/ 2 U = ρ(k 2 n2 co − β )


Considering ∆ as the perturbation parameter, the transverse field components and the normalized propagation constant is expanded in a power series:

2.2 Weak Guidance Approximation


˜⊥ + ∆e⊥ + ∆2 e⊥ + ... e⊥ (∆) = e ˜ + ∆U (1) + ∆2 U (2) + ... U (∆) = U



(2.26) (2.27)

where the superscript indicates the order of the perturbation and the tilde denotes the zeroth-order solution. The right hand side of the normalized vector wave equation (Equation 2.24) is also expanded using Equation 2.4, where the expansion of the logarithmic term for a small argument is:

∇⊥ ln n2 = −2∆∇⊥ f − 4∆2 ∇⊥ f 2 + ...


Substituting the expansions (Equation 2.26 and Equation 2.28) into the normalized vector wave equation (Equation 2.24 and equating the terms of the same order in ∆ yields the scalar wave equation (i.e. the zeroth order field):

2 2 ρ2 ∇ 2 ⊥ + U − V f )e⊥ = 0


˜ of the propagation constant β is related where the zeroth-order approximation β ˜ through: to U

˜2 1/2 ˜ = ρ(k 2 n2 U co − β )


˜⊥ decouple such that they In Cartesian coordinates, the two scalar components of e obey the same scalar wave equation:

2 2 2 (∇2 ⊥ + k n (x, y ) − β )φ(x, y ) = 0


where φ(x, y ) refers to either e ˜x (x, y ) or e ˜y (x, y ).

2.3 Guided Modes in 3-D Waveguides



Guided Modes in 3-D Waveguides

3-D waveguides or channel waveguides are the cornerstone to light switching and modulation. In 3-D waveguides, the confinement of light transversely (along the x-direction - i.e. along the depth) and laterally (along the y-direction) are essential. Unlike microwave rectangular waveguides with perfect conductor walls, optical 3D waveguides surrounded by different dielectric materials do not support pure TE and TM modes. Instead, two different types of hybrid modes are supported. These are essentially TEM modes polarized along the x and y directions, where its classification is dependent on the direction of the main electric field component.
x , while that having The mode having the main electric field Ex , is called the Epq y the main electric field Ey , is called the Epq . The subscripts p and q denote the x y number of nodes of the E field in the x and y directions, respectively. Epq and Epq

are also generally known as the TM -like mode and TE -like mode, respectively.

In general, the boundary value problem for the 3-D waveguide cannot be accurately solved without the use of a computer. For the analysis of these waveguide modes, one can make use of several approximation and numerical methods. Some of the approximation methods are: Marcatili’s method [13] and the effective index method (EIM ) [14]; while some of the numerical methods include: fourier decomposition method (FDM ) [15], finite element method (FEM ) [16, 17] and the beam propagation method (BPM ) [18]. Nonetheless, there are no exact analytical solutions for the modes of the channel waveguides, even in the limit of the weak-guidance approximation. One has to resort to numerical methods to obtain accurate solutions of the scalar wave equation for waveguides with rectangular or square core cross-sections. In this academic exercise, a commercial optoelectronic CAD software BeamP ROP T M (from RSoft Inc.), which is based on the beam propagation method (BPM), was used to design the SU-8 y-branching waveguides.

2.3 Guided Modes in 3-D Waveguides



Beam Propagation Method (BPM)

Computer-aided design and modelling software has in many ways spurred the development of lightwave components and systems. With these softwares, new device concepts can be easily evaluated; designs can be optimized and the design cycle can be shortened significantly. One such commercial optoelectronic CAD software is BeamP ROP T M from RSoft Inc.. This simulation software is based on the beam propagation method (BPM). The basic principles of BPM will be described in this section.

The beam propagation method (BPM) was first applied to problems of integrated optics by Feit and Fleck [18–23]. The BPM approach is based on the approximation of the exact wave equation for monochromatic waves and the numerical solution of the resulting equations. BPM offers many simplifications to the guided wave problem, thus reducing the computational complexity and speeding up the computational process of many problems. An overview of the basic BPM theory [24, 25] is described below.

In the basic form of BPM, the electric field is represented as a scalar value instead of a vector value. As a result, polarization effects can be neglected and the propagation is assumed to be paraxial (i.e. confined to a narrow range of angles). The scalar field assumption allows the wave equation to be written in the form of the Helmholtz equation for monochromatic waves:

∇2 φ(x, y, z ) + k (x, y, z )2 φ = 0


where ∇2 φ(x, y, z ) is

∂2φ ∂x2


∂2φ ∂y 2


∂2φ ; ∂z 2

the scalar electric field has been written as

E (x, y, z, t) = φ(x, y, z )e−iwt , and k (x, y, z ) = k0 n(x, y, z ) is the spatially dependent wavenumber, with k0 =
2π λ

is the wavenumber in free space. It can be seen that

2.3 Guided Modes in 3-D Waveguides the refractive index distribution n(x, y, z ) defines the geometry of the problem. It should be noted that Equation 2.32 is exact.


For typical guided wave problems, the phase variation due to propagation along the guided axis (i.e. the z axis) gives the most rapid variation in the field φ. To enhance the efficiency of the technique, this rapid phase variation is factored out of the problem with the introduction of a slowly varying field u, where:

φ(x, y, z ) = u(x, y, z )eikz



¯ is the reference wavenumber, a constant representing the average phase where k variation of the field φ; and is frequently expressed in terms of a reference refractive ¯ = k0 n index n ¯ , where k ¯ . In this approximation, the slowly varying field can be represented numerically on a longitudinal grid that is much coarser than the wavelength for many problems, thus increasing the efficiency of the technique. However, this approximation can only be applied to paraxial fields (i.e. the field is propagating mainly along the z axis).

Substitution of Equation 2.33 into Equation 2.32 yields the following equation for the slowly varying field:

2 2 ∂2u ¯ ∂u + ∂ u + ∂ u + (k 2 − k ¯2 )u = 0 + 2 i k 2 2 2 ∂z ∂z ∂x ∂y


Assuming that the variation u with z is sufficiently slow, the second derivative term in z may be neglected. This is known as the paraxial or parabolic approximation, which reduces the guided wave problem from a second-order boundary value problem requiring eigenvalue analysis, to a first-order initial value problem that can be simply solved by integration. One direct consequence of the elimination of the

2.3 Guided Modes in 3-D Waveguides second derivative is that devices where reflections are significant (i.e. backward travelling wave solutions) cannot be accurately modelled based on the basic BPM equation. Equation 2.34 then becomes:


i ∂u = ¯ ∂z 2k

∂2u ∂2u ¯2 )u + + (k 2 − k ∂x2 ∂y 2


Equation 2.35 is the basic BPM equation in three dimensions (3-D) which is also known as the scalar, paraxial BPM. This basic form of BPM models the continuous wave (CW ) optical fields propagating in the z-direction. By discretizing the cross-section of a waveguide structure into grid points, the cross-sectional profile is calculated one “slice” at a time using the above equation (Equation 2.35) in the z-direction, with each successive slice being mathematically dependent on the current slice. This process is repeated until the wave has propagated through the entire structure.


Further Extensions to the Basic BPM Theory

The basic BPM theory may be extended in many ways to address the above limitations. For example, vectorial BPM calculations may be performed by incorporating the polarization effects in the BPM (i.e. treat the E field as a vector and derive the equations based on the vector wave equation). Wide-angle BPM calculations [26] may be performed to address the paraxial restrictions on the basic BPM. The paraxial limitations may be reduced by incorporating the effects of the second order derivative (that was neglected in the basic BPM) according to the different degrees of approximation. Lastly, bidirectional BPM [27] may also be incorporated to handle simultaneous propagation along the negative z axis based on a transfer matrix approach. More details on these can be found in [28, 29].

2.4 Summary




Some of the basic equations and the fundamental concepts on optical waveguide theory were discussed in this chapter. These include: • the vector wave equations; • the Fresnel equations; • the concepts of critical angle and total internal reflection; • the mode propagation constant and the effective indices of modes. In the case of 3-D waveguides, there are no exact analytical solutions for the modes. Numerical methods must be employed to obtain an accurate solution for these waveguides. Softwares based on BPM are very popular in the design and modeling of 3-D waveguide components such as y-branches. More details of the design and modeling of channel waveguides will be provided in the subsequent chapters. In the next chapter, the common waveguide fabrication techniques for 3-D polymer and glass waveguide fabrication will be reviewed. In addition, proton beam writing, a new technique for 3-D waveguide fabrication, will be introduced.

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