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Overview of Optical Technology
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Overview of Optical Technology
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Figure 4-2 Photophone receiver.
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Earlier demonstrations of optical transmissions were done before this. Swiss physicist Daniel Colladon (in 1841), and later in 1870, physicist John Tyndall (well known for his work on the properties of gases) demonstrated that a beam of light would follow (for the most part) a stream of water issuing from a container, showing that the air-water interface would reflect most of the light back into the stream. Ten years after Tyndall, William Wheeler of Concord, Massachusetts (who later became a well-known hydraulics engineer, of all things), created a practical application for Tyndall s demonstration when he used highly reflective metal pipes to carry the brilliant light from a carbon arc lamp to various rooms in a house. His technique never proved to be commercially practical, but it was the first attempt to pump light for practical reasons, and was the first demonstration of an actual lightguide a concept that would later be perfected with the development of fiber optics. Figure 4-3 shows a sketch of Wheeler s invention. It is clear that our fascination with pumped light stems from a point deep in the annals of history, but it has only been relatively recently that optical science has been perfected to the point that optical transmission and its corollary optical switching technology have become not only marketable, but are in fact redefining the nature of data networking.
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Downloaded from Digital Engineering Library @ McGraw-Hill (www.digitalengineeringlibrary.com) Copyright 2004 The McGraw-Hill Companies. All rights reserved. Any use is subject to the Terms of Use as given at the website.
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Overview of Optical Technology
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Figure 4-3 Wheeler s light pipe apparatus.
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In each of their experiments, Colladon, Wheeler, and Tyndall relied on a phenomenon called total internal reflection, which is fundamental to understanding how optical transmission works. Therefore, we must delve into optical physics for a moment. This will only be slightly uncomfortable, so go with me on this. Everyone at one time or another has seen the image of a stick appearing to bend when it is inserted in water, or the frustration of a hunter trying to
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Downloaded from Digital Engineering Library @ McGraw-Hill (www.digitalengineeringlibrary.com) Copyright 2004 The McGraw-Hill Companies. All rights reserved. Any use is subject to the Terms of Use as given at the website.
Overview of Optical Technology
Overview of Optical Technology
spear a fish, only to discover that the fish isn t where it appears to be. This phenomenon, called refraction, occurs because of a difference in the refractive index between the air and the water. The refractive index is a measure of the ratio between the speed of light in a vacuum (actually, today it is measured through the air) and the speed of light in the other medium. Light travels slower in physical media than it does when transmitted through the air, so given that the refractive index [n] is measured as Speed of light [c] in a vacuum Speed of light [c] in another medium, the refractive index for any other medium will always be greater than 1. So why do we care about this Because the light actually bends when it passes through the interface between media with different refractive indices. So for example, when a light source shines a beam of light into a glass fiber, the light bends as it passes from the air into the glass. The degree that it bends is a function of two things: the difference in refractive index between the two media, and the angle at which the light strikes the glass, known as the angle of incidence. This angle is measured from the centerline of the medium, a line that runs perpendicular to the entry surface. For fiber optic transmission systems, this becomes rather crucial. Figure 4-4 illustrates this concept. The relationship between the angle of incidence and the angle of refraction is called Snell s Law. It becomes important in fiber systems because of the criticality of having the light enter the fiber from the source at as narrow an angle of incidence as possible. If the angle of incidence is too high, as shown in Figure 4-5, the light can actually escape from the glass, resulting in severe signal loss. According to Snell s Law, if the angle of incidence is too high, then refraction will not take place. Put another way, if the light strikes the interface between air and glass (passing into a material with a higher refractive index) at a steep enough angle, the light will not escape,
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