Intelligent British scientists are creating sturdy optical fibers that might unlock our quantum future

Optical fiber has become the basis of modern data transmission and is used for everything from telecommunications and internet services to government and space applications. This is because they can transmit larger amounts of data faster and over longer distances compared to other technologies.

However, the construction of fiber optics can occasionally cause network failures because twisted or kinked cables can impede the transmission of information. To address this problem, scientists at the University of Bath in the UK have developed a new type of fiber that aims to improve the robustness of these networks.

A normal optical fiber consists of three elements: the core, the cladding and the coating.

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The nucleus is at the center and provides a path for light (the medium through which data travels). The cladding keeps the light inside the core and controls the direction it travels, bouncing along as if reflected off a mirror. Finally, the coating acts as the primary buffer, and a coat encases the entire structure.

The typical structure of an optical fiber. Credit: Bob Mellish/Wikimedia

“When manufacturing a fiber optic cable, there are inevitably small variations in the physical structure of the fiber. When used in a network, the fiber can also be twisted and bent,” said physics PhD student Nathan Roberts, who led the research.

These distortions can obstruct the light’s optimal path and lead to information degradation as it travels between the transmitter and receiver.

“One way to address these variability and shortcomings is to ensure the fiber design process includes a real focus on robustness. This is where we found the ideas of topology useful,” added Roberts.

Topology is the mathematical study of the properties of geometric objects that remain unchanged despite deformation, twisting, and stretching. It has already been used in physics and light research, but Bath scientists are the first to use it in optical fibers.

The physicists have created a fiber that uses topological principles by adding multiple light-guiding cores in the fiber that are connected to each other in a spiral. Light can still travel between these cores, but thanks to the topological design it stays trapped inside the edge. These so-called “edge states” are shielded from clutter in the overall structure.

“By using optical fibers with topological designs, researchers will have the tools to anticipate and prevent signal-degrading effects by building inherently robust photonic systems,” explained Dr. Anton Souslov, co-author of the study.

The researchers are currently looking for industrial partners to further develop their concept, which could benefit not only existing communication but also future quantum networks.

“We have shown that you can wrap kilometers of topological fibers around a spool. We envision a quantum internet in which information is robustly transmitted across continents using topological principles,” noted Roberts.

Compared to conventional computers, quantum technology is said to be significantly more powerful when it comes to storing and processing information, while promising an (so far) unprecedented level of data security – a potential game changer for information networks.

However, the quantum states of light with transmission information can be easily influenced by the environment, which poses a significant challenge. This study may pave the way for using topological design to obtain quantum information in optical fibers.

The study can be found here.

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