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Photonic Crystal Fibers

Philip Russell, et al.
Science 299, 358 (2003);
DOI: 10.1126/science.1079280

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Photonic Crystal Fibers
Philip Russell

Was it realistic to imagine making a pho-
Photonic crystal fibers guide light by corralling it within a periodic array of microscopic tonic crystal fiber (PCF)? Fiber fabricators
air holes that run along the entire fiber length. Largely through their ability to overcome who have long memories will recall how
the limitations of conventional fiber optics—for example, by permitting low-loss difficult it was to make “single material”
guidance of light in a hollow core—these fibers are proving to have a multitude of fibers. Proposed in the 1970s as low-loss
important technological and scientific applications spanning many disciplines. The result single-mode fibers and made entirely from
has been a renaissance of interest in optical fibers and their uses.
pure silica, they consisted of a tubular clad-
ding shell connected to a central core by

thin webs of glass (6 ). However, such fi-
tandard “step index” optical fibers guide now heading toward a hollow-core version, bers proved very hard to make, and work on
light by total internal reflection, which an ambitious goal that requires a materials them was abandoned with the advent of

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operates only if the core has a higher system with much larger refractive index MCVD (7 ).
refractive index than the encircling cladding. contrast than the few percent offered by So why bother to tackle such a difficult—
Rays of light in the core, striking the interface MCVD (5). and apparently impractical—technology?
with the cladding, are completely reflected. The first reason was simple curiosity: the idea
The wave nature of light dictates that guid- of using a photonic band gap to trap light in
ance occurs only at certain angles, i.e., that a hollow core was intriguing. Second, stan-
only a small number of discrete “modes” can dard fiber had become a highly respected
form. If only one mode exists, the fiber is elder statesman with a wonderful history but
known as “single mode.” nothing new to say. It seemed that, whatever
In 1991, the idea emerged that light could it could do, step-index fiber did it extremely
be trapped inside a hollow fiber core by well. The trouble was that it could not do
creating a periodic wavelength-scale lattice enough. What was needed were fibers that
of microscopic holes in the cladding glass—a could carry more power, could be used for
“photonic crystal” (1). To understand how sensing, could act as better hosts for rare-
this might work, consider that all wave- earth ions, had multiple cores, had higher
length-scale periodic structures exhibit rang- nonlinearities, or had higher birefringence or
es of angle and color (“stop bands”) where widely engineerable dispersion. In fact,
incident light is strongly reflected. This is the conventional fiber was not really good at
origin of the color in butterfly wings, peacock delivering anything except optical telecom-
feathers, and holograms such as those found munications. So many new applications and
on credit cards. In photonic band gap (PBG) developments have emerged from the PCF
materials, however, these stop bands broaden concept that there is now a need to rewrite the
to block propagation in every direction, re- textbooks on fiber optics (8, 9).
sulting in the suppression of all optical vibra-
tions within the range of wavelengths Fabrication Techniques
spanned by the PBG (2). Appropriately de- The first challenge was to devise a fabrication
signed, the holey photonic crystal cladding, method. There was no particularly helpful
running along the entire length of the fiber, precedent; nobody had ever tried to make a
can prevent the escape of light from a fiber like this before. The closest structures
hollow core. Thus, it becomes possible to were glass nanocrystals (10), but these were
escape the straitjacket of total internal re- only a few hundreds of micrometers thick.
flection and trap light in a hollow fiber core After several false starts, it was discovered
surrounded by glass. that silica capillaries could be stacked, fused
In the early 1970s, there had been the together, and drawn successfully down to
suggestion that a cylindrical Bragg PCF (Fig. 1) (11). This stack-and-draw pro-
waveguide might be produced in which rings cedure proved highly versatile, allowing
of high- and low-refractive index are ar- complex lattices to be assembled from indi-
ranged around a central core (3). Recently, a vidual stackable units of the correct size and
successful solid-core version of this structure, shape. Solid, empty, or doped glass regions
made using modified chemical vapor deposi- Fig. 1. A stack of glass tubes and rods (a) is could easily be incorporated. My team had
tion (MCVD), was reported (4). The effort is constructed as a macroscopic “preform” with chanced upon a technology first used in the
the required photonic crystal structure. It is
then fused together and drawn down to fiber
third- to first-centuries BC by the Egyptians
Department of Physics, University of Bath, Claverton (c) in two stages using a standard fiber drawing to make mosaic glass (12). The technique’s
Down, Bath BA2 7AY, UK. E-mail: p.s.j.russell tower. To soften the silica glass, the furnace (b) success is largely due to the mechanical sta- runs at 1800° to 2000°C. bility of the structure—the surface tension

358 17 JANUARY 2003 VOL 299 SCIENCE
forces tend to balance out, allowing forma- guidance is indeed possible in the silica-air determine whether this structure would be a
tion of highly regular lattices of holes during system. It is thought-provoking that the entire waveguide or not. From one perspective, it
the drawing process. Overall collapse ratios optical telecommunications revolution hap- resembled a standard fiber because the aver-
as large as ⬃50,000 times have been realized, pened within the narrow strip kncl⌳ ⬍ ␤⌳ ⬍ age refractive index was lower outside the
and continuous holes as small as 25 nm in knco⌳ of Fig. 2A. The rich variety of new core. By contrast, between the holes there
diameter have been demonstrated, earning an features on the diagram for PCF explains in were clear, barrier-free pathways of glass
entry in the Guinness Book of Records in part why microstructuring extends the possi- along which light could escape from the core.
1999 for the World’s Longest Holes. bilities of fibers so greatly. The answer was provided by the first working
Another promising—though not yet per- Modified total internal reflection. Numer- photonic crystal fiber (Fig. 3, A and B),
fected—technique is extrusion (13), in which ical modeling showed that the holes in the which consisted of an array of ⬃300-nm air
molten glass is forced through a die containing holes, spaced 2.3-␮m
a suitably designed pattern of holes. Extrusion apart, with a central sol-
allows fiber to be drawn directly from bulk id core (11). The striking
glass, and almost any structure (crystalline or property of this fiber was
amorphous) can be produced. It works for that the core did not ever
many materials, including chalcogenides (14), seem to become multi-
polymers (15), and compound glasses. Selec- mode in the experi-
tive doping of specified regions to introduce ments, no matter how
rare-earth ions or render the glass photosensi- short the wavelength of
tive is much more difficult, however. the light (21); the guided

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The first convincing photonic crystal fiber mode always had a sin-
structure emerged from the fiber drawing gle strong central lobe
tower in November 1995. It had a hexagonal filling the core.
close-packed array of small air channels and This intriguing “end-
was free of any gross imperfections or de- lessly single-mode” be-
fects. It was the photonic equivalent of a pure havior can be understood
dopant- and defect-free semiconductor crys- by viewing the array of
tal, requiring controlled introduction of im- holes as a modal filter or
purities to be useful. Functional defects could “sieve” (Fig. 4). Because
be precisely introduced during the stacking light is evanescent in the
process, allowing fabrication of a wide range air, the holes (diameter d,
of different PCFs. spacing ⌳) act as strong
barriers; they are the
Light Guidance in PCF “wire mesh” of the sieve.
The large index contrast and complex struc- The field of the funda-
ture in PCF make it difficult to treat mathe- mental mode fits into the
matically. Standard optical fiber analyses do core with a single lobe of
not help, and so Maxwell’s equations must be diameter (between zeros)
solved numerically (16–20). Results are typ- roughly equal to 2⌳. It is
ically presented in the form of a propagation the “grain of rice” that
diagram, whose axes are the dimensionless cannot escape through the
quantities ␤⌳ and ␻⌳/c, where ⌳ is the inter- wire mesh because the sil-
hole spacing and c is the speed of light in Fig. 2. (A) Propagation diagram for a conventional single-mode fiber ica gaps (between the air
vacuum. This diagram indicates the ranges of (see schematic in the top left-hand corner) with a Ge-doped silica holes encircling the core)
frequency and axial wave vector component core and a pure silica cladding. Guided modes form at points like R, are too narrow. For higher
where light is free to travel in the core but unable to penetrate the
␤ where the light is evanescent (unable to order modes, however,
cladding (because total internal reflection operates there). The nar-
propagate). At fixed optical frequency, the row red strip is where the whole of optical telecommunications the lobe dimensions are
maximum possible value of ␤ is set by kn ⫽ operates. (B) Propagation diagram for a triangular lattice of air smaller so they can slip
␻n/c, where n is the refractive index of the channels in silica glass with 45% air-filling fraction. In region (1), light between the gaps. As the
region under consideration. For ␤ ⬍ kn, light is free to propagate in every region of the fiber [air, photonic crystal relative hole size d/⌳ is
is free to propagate; for ␤ ⬎ kn, it is evanes- (PC), and silica]. In region (2), propagation is turned off in the air, and, made larger, successive
in (3), it is turned off in the air and the PC. In (4), light is evanescent
cent. For conventional fiber (core and clad- higher order modes be-
in every region. The black fingers represent the regions where full
ding refractive indices nco and ncl, respective- two-dimensional photonic band gaps exist. Guided modes of a solid- come trapped. Correct
ly), guided modes appear when light is free to core PCF (see schematic in the top left-hand corner) form at points choice of geometry thus
propagate in the doped core but is evanescent such as Q, where light is free to travel in the core but unable to guarantees that only the
in the cladding (Fig. 2A). The same diagram penetrate the PC. At point P, light is free to propagate in air but fundamental mode is
for PCF is sometimes known as a band-edge blocked from penetrating the cladding by the PBG; these are the guided; more detailed
conditions required for a hollow-core mode.
or “finger” plot (16 ). In a triangular lattice of studies show that this oc-
circular air holes with an air-filling fraction curs for d/⌳ ⬍ 0.4 (9).
of 45%, light is evanescent in the black re- first PCF were too small to expect a photonic Very large mode-area fibers become possible,
gions of Fig. 2B. Full two-dimensional pho- band gap, so there was little point in intro- with benefits for high-power delivery, amplifi-
tonic band gaps exist within the black finger- ducing a hollow core in the center. Given that ers, and lasers (22). By doping the core to
shaped regions, some of which extend into ␤ larger air-filling fractions seemed beyond reduce its index slightly, guidance can be turned
⬍ k where light is free to propagate in vac- reach in 1995, an obvious thing was to try a off completely at wavelengths shorter than a
uum. This result indicates that hollow-core solid core. Conceptually, it was difficult to certain threshold value (23). SCIENCE VOL 299 17 JANUARY 2003 359
whole structure is made tional fiber in telecommunications, is not yet
very small, the zero dis- clear. A number of questions must be asked.
persion point can be shift- Are the glass-air interfaces smooth enough to
ed to wavelengths in the avoid significant scattering out of the core?
visible (25). The “cob- Is Rayleigh scattering amplified by the
web” PCF in Fig. 3D has large refractive index step at the interfaces?
an 800-nm diameter core Will the holes fill with water vapor and
and a dispersion zero at thus huge water-related losses develop at
560 nm. A PCF was re- 1.39-␮m wavelength, where an overtone of
cently reported with close the OH bond absorption occurs? The re-
to zero chromatic disper- ported losses are steadily dropping, the
sion over hundreds of nm, record presently standing at 0.58 dB/km in
making glass almost as a solid-core PCF (30).
free of dispersion as vac- Hollow-core PCF has the greatest poten-
uum (26). tial for extremely low loss, because the light
Hollow-core photonic travels predominantly in the hollow core.
band gap guidance. Al- Values well below 0.2 dB/km seem at least
though the first (solid feasible. The prospect of improving on con-
core) photonic band gap ventional fiber while greatly reducing the
fiber was reported in 1998 nonlinearities associated with a solid glass

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(27) (Fig. 3, E and F), core is tantalizing. The best reported attenu-
hollow-core guidance had ation in hollow-core PCF is 13 dB/km (31),
Fig. 3. An assortment of optical (OM) and scanning electron (SEM) to wait until the technolo- limited, it is believed, by the high sensitivity
micrographs of PCF structures. (A) SEM of an endlessly single-mode gy had advanced to the of the band gap to structural fluctuations that
solid core PCF. (B) Far-field optical pattern produced by (A) when
excited by red and green laser light. (C) SEM of a recent birefringent
point where larger air-fill- occur over long fiber lengths; wavelengths
PCF. (D) SEM of a small (800 nm) core PCF with ultrahigh nonlinearity ing fractions, required to that are guided in one section may leak away
and a zero chromatic dispersion at 560-nm wavelength. (E) SEM of achieve a photonic band in another.
the first photonic band gap PCF, its core formed by an additional air gap for incidence from Conventional fibers suffer additional loss
hole in a graphite lattice of air holes. (F) Near-field OM of the vacuum, became possible. if bent more tightly than a certain critical
six-leaved blue mode that appears when (E) is excited by white light. The first such fiber (28) radius Rcrit, which depends on wavelength,
(G) SEM of a hollow-core photonic band gap fiber. (H) Near-field OM
had a simple triangular core-cladding refractive index step, and most
of a red mode in hollow-core PCF (white light is launched into the
core). (I) OM of a hollow-core PCF with a Kagomé cladding lattice, lattice of holes, and the notably, the third power of core radius a3. For
guiding white light. hollow core was formed wavelengths longer than a certain value (the
by removing seven capil- “long wavelength bend edge”), all guidance
laries ( producing a rela- is effectively lost. PCF does not escape this
The guided modes become birefringent if tively large core that improved the chances of effect, and, in fact, in its endlessly single-
the core microstructure is deliberately made finding a guided mode). A vacuum-guided mode form PCF exhibits an unexpected short
twofold symmetric, for example by introduc- mode must have ␤/k ⬍ 1, so the relevant oper-
ing capillaries with different wall thicknesses ating region in Fig. 2 is to the left of the vacuum
above and below the core (Fig. 3C). Extreme- line, inside one of the fingers. These conditions
ly high values of birefringence can be ensure that light is free to propagate—and form
achieved, some 10 times larger than in con- a mode—within the hollow core while being
ventional fibers (24 ). Unlike traditional “po- unable to escape into the cladding.
larization maintaining” fibers (bow-tie, ellip- Optical and electron micrographs of a
tical core, or Panda), which contain at least typical hollow-core PCF are shown in Fig.
two different glasses each with a different 3, G and H. Launching white light into the
thermal expansion coefficient, the PCF bire- fiber core causes them to transmit colored
fringence is highly insensitive to temperature, modes, indicating that guidance existed
which is important in many applications. only in restricted bands of wavelength, co-
The tendency for different frequencies of inciding with the photonic band gaps. This
light to travel at different speeds is a crucial feature limits the range of potential appli-
factor in the design of telecommunications cations. More recently it has been possible
systems. A sequence of short light pulses to greatly widen the transmission bands by
carries the digitized information. Each of fabricating a different structure, a Kagomé
these is formed from a spread of frequencies lattice (29) (Fig. 3I).
Fig. 4. In a solid-core PCF, the pattern of air
and, as a result of chromatic dispersion, it Attenuation mechanisms. A key parameter holes acts like a modal sieve. In (a), the funda-
broadens as it travels, ultimately obscuring in fiber optics is the attenuation per unit mental mode is unable to escape because it
the signal. The magnitude of the dispersion length, for this determines the optimum spac- cannot fit in the gaps between the air holes—
changes with wavelength, passing through ing (⬃80 km) between repeaters in a tele- its effective wavelength in the transverse plane
zero at 1.3 ␮m in conventional fiber. In PCF, communications system. In conventional fi- is too large. In (b) and (c), the higher order
the dispersion can be controlled with unprec- bers Rayleigh scattering, unavoidable scatter- modes are able to leak away because their
transverse effective wavelength is smaller. If
edented freedom. As the holes get larger, the ing at nano-scale imperfections in the glass, the diameter of the air holes is increased, the
core becomes more and more isolated, until it sets the limit at ⬃0.2 dB/km at 1550-nm gaps between them shrink and more and more
resembles an isolated strand of silica glass wavelength. Whether PCF can match or im- higher order modes become trapped in the
suspended by six thin webs of glass. If the prove on this, and perhaps replace conven- “sieve.”

360 17 JANUARY 2003 VOL 299 SCIENCE
wavelength bend edge caused by bend-in- (anti-Stokes) and down (Stokes)
duced coupling from fundamental to higher in two separate three-wave
order modes, which of course leak out of the parametric interactions. At high
core (32, 33). intensities, the Stokes wave be-
comes strong and beats with the
Applications pump laser light, driving the
The diversity of new or improved features, molecular oscillations more
beyond what conventional fiber offers, means strongly. This further enhances
that PCF is finding an increasing number of the Stokes signal, so that ulti-
applications in ever-widening areas of sci- mately, above a certain thresh-
ence and technology. Let us sample a few of old power, the major fraction of
the more intriguing and important ones. the pump power is converted to
Gas-based nonlinear optics. A long- the Stokes frequency. The ener-
standing challenge in photonics is how to gy lost to molecular vibrations
maximize nonlinear interactions between la- is dissipated as heat. A stimu-
ser light and low-density media such as gas- lated Raman threshold was re-
es. Efficient nonlinear processes require high cently observed in a hydrogen-
intensities at low power, long interaction filled hollow-core PCF at pulse
lengths, and good-quality transverse beam energies ⬃100 times lower than
profiles. No existing solution comes close to previously possible (29).

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the performance offered by hollow-core PCF. Another field where hollow-
At a bore diameter of 10 ␮m, for example, a core fiber is likely to have a ma-
focused free-space laser beam is marginally jor impact is that of high harmon-
preferable to a capillary, whereas a hollow- ic generation. When gases such
core PCF with 13 dB/km attenuation is 105 as argon are subjected to ultra-
times more effective. Such enhancements are short (few fs) high-energy (few
rare in physics and point the way to improve- mJ) pulses, usually from a Ti-
ments in all sorts of nonlinear laser-gas inter- sapphire laser system operating at
actions. Discussed next are just two examples 800-nm wavelength, the extreme- Fig. 6. (A) The supercontinuum spectrum produced from an
from a rich prospect of enhanced, and more ly high, short duration electric infrared laser operating at 800 nm and producing 200-fs
practical, ultralow-threshold gas-based non- field momentarily ionizes the at- pulses. The infrared light is launched (a) into highly nonlinear
PCF (b) and the supercontinuum is dispersed into its con-
linear optical devices. oms, and very high harmonics of stituent colors at a diffraction grating (d). The resulting
An example is ultralow-threshold stim- the laser frequency are generated spectrum is cast on a screen (c). (B) The supercontinuum
ulated Raman scattering in molecular gas- during the recombination process spectrum consists of millions of individual frequencies,
es. Raman scattering is caused by molecu- (34 ). Ultraviolet and even x-ray spaced by the ⬃100-MHz repetition rate of the infrared
lar vibrations, typically in the multi-THz radiation can be produced in this laser. The resulting ladder can be used as a highly accurate
range, that interact spontaneously with the way. It is tantalizing to speculate “ruler” for measuring frequency (42).
laser light, shifting its frequency both up that hollow-core PCF could bring
this process within the reach of compact di- laser light was sufficient to levitate and guide
ode-pumped laser systems, potentially lead- 5-␮m polystyrene spheres along a 15-cm
ing to table-top x-ray sources for medicine, length of PCF with a hollow-core diameter of
lithography, and x-ray diagnostics. 20 ␮m (38). This technique is being extended
Atom and particle guidance. First shown to the guidance of atoms and molecules.
in the 1970s, small dielectric particles can be Ultrahigh nonlinearities. PCFs with ex-
trapped, levitated, or propelled in a laser tremely small solid glass cores and very high
beam using the dipole forces exerted by light air-filling fractions not only display unusual
(35). In the now well-developed field of chromatic dispersion but also yield very high
optical tweezers, biological cells, inorganic optical intensities per unit power. Thus one of
particles, atoms, and molecules can be ma- the most successful applications of PCF is to
nipulated with increasing precision (36). A nonlinear optics, where high effective nonlin-
related area is that of atom and particle trans- earities, together with excellent control of
port along hollow capillaries, where the op- chromatic dispersion, are essential for effi-
tical dipole forces of a co-guided laser beam cient devices.
prevent adhesion to the glass surfaces and A dramatic example is supercontinuum
provide the acceleration needed to overcome generation. When ultrashort, high-energy
viscosity (37 ). Here, as for gas-laser interac- pulses travel through a material, their fre-
tions, the absence of a true guided mode in quency spectrum can experience giant broad-
the capillary severely limits the effectiveness ening due to a range of interconnected non-
of the technique. Large (⬃200 ␮m) bore linear effects. Until recently this required a
capillaries must be used to avoid leakage, regeneratively amplified Ti-sapphire laser
Fig. 5. Particle trapping and guidance in a hol-
low-core PCF (38). The van der Waals forces which means that adequate trapping forces operating at 800-nm wavelength. Pulses from
between the ␮m-sized polystyrene particles (c) can be obtained only at high laser powers. the master oscillator (100-MHz repetition
are broken by making them dance on a vibrat- Hollow-core PCF provides a neat solution to rate, 100 fs duration, few nJ energy) are
ing plate (a). The laser beam (b) captures them this problem, as shown in recent experiments regeneratively amplified up to ⬃1 mJ. Be-
and entrains them into the hollow-core PCF (d). (Fig. 5) where only 80 mW of 514-nm argon cause the amplifier needs to be recharged SCIENCE VOL 299 17 JANUARY 2003 361
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Concluding Remarks isation in the 21st Century, C. M. Soukoulis, Ed. (Klu- 46. W. N. MacPherson et al., Opt. Commun. 193, 97
A full account of the growing number of PCF wer Academic, Dordrecht, Netherlands, 2001), pp. (2001).
305–320. 47. T. M. Monro et al., Meas. Sci. Tech. 12, 854 (2001).
applications would occupy many pages. 14. K. M. Kiang et al., Electron. Lett. 38, 546 (2002). 48. I wish in particular to recognize my friends and
Among the more important ones, not dis- 15. M. A. van Eijkelenborg et al., Opt. Express 9, 319 colleagues J. Knight and T. Birks for their enthusiastic
cussed here, are rare-earth doped lasers and (2001). and creative involvement in the research over the
amplifiers (44, 45) and sensors (46, 47 ). 16. T. A. Birks et al., Electron. Lett. 31, 1941 (1995). years. I also wish to thank all the many graduate
17. D. Mogilevtsev, T. A. Birks, P. St. J. Russell, IEEE J. students, postdoctoral researchers, visitors, and col-
Also, the possibility of fashioning fibers from Lightwave Tech. 17, 2078 (1999). laborators in other institutions all over the world for
traditionally “difficult” materials such as in- 18. A. Ferrando et al., Opt. Lett. 24, 276 (1999). their many valuable contributions.

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