Optical fibers are the backbone of modern communications, shuttling information from A to B through thin glass filaments as pulses of light. They are used extensively in telecommunications, allowing information to travel at near the speed of light virtually without loss.
These days, biologists, physicists and other scientists regularly use optical fibers to pipe light around inside their labs. In one recent application, quantum research labs have been reshaping optical fibers, stretching them into tiny tapers (see JQI News on Nanofibers and designer light traps). For these nanometer-scale tapers, or nanofibers, the injected light still makes its way from A to B, but some of it is forced to travel outside the fiber’s exterior surface. The exterior light, or evanescent field, can capture atoms and then carry information about that light-matter interaction to a detector.
Fine-tuning such evanescent light fields is tricky and requires tools for characterizing both the fiber and the light. To this end, researchers from JQI, the Army Research Laboratory (ARL), and the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) have developed a novel method to measure how light propagates through a nanofiber, allowing them to determine the nanofiber’s thickness to a precision less than the width of an atom. The technique, described in the January 20, 2017 issue of the journal Optical, is direct, fast and, unlike the standard imaging method, preserves the integrity of the fiber. As a result, the probe can be used in-situ with the nanofiber fabrication equipment, which will streamline implementation in quantum optics and quantum information experiments. Developing reliable and precise tools for this platform may enable nanofiber technology for sensing and metrology applications.
The full research paper, Modal Interference in Optical Nanofibers for Sub-Angstrom Radius Sensitivity, can be viewed at the The Optical Society website, https://www.osapublishing.org/optica/fulltext.cfm?uri=optica-4-1-157&id=357461.