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PolyU engineering researchers put fibre optics to good use

The Specialty Optical Fibre Fabrication Laboratory houses a state-of-the-art fibre drawing tower capable of pulling the newest type of optical fibres called micro-structured fibres. This cutting-edge fibre manufacturing technology would allow PolyU researchers to develop novel optical fibres for communication and sensing applications.

The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU)'s Faculty of Engineering (FENG) has recently set up a Specialty Optical Fibre Fabrication Laboratory in its Department of Electronic and Information Engineering and Department of Electrical Engineering to support research work in optical fibre communications and other application areas. The Laboratory houses a state-of-the-art fibre drawing tower which is capable of pulling the newest type of optical fibres called micro-structured fibres.

Prof. Alex Wai, Dean of FENG and Chair Professor of Optical Communications, said that conventional optical fibres that are used today have a solid core and cladding. Micro-structured optical fibres on the other hand have air holes running along its length. Different arrangement and sizes of the air holes will result in optical fibres with different properties. He said that this cutting-edge fibre manufacturing technology would allow PolyU researchers to develop novel optical fibres for communication and sensing applications. The new fibre drawing facility, together with the existing Optical Communications and Networking Research Laboratory, will provide a strong base to support further research on optic fibres.

Prof. Wai also congratulated Prof. Charles Kao for winning the Nobel Prize in Physics for his "ground-breaking achievements concerning transmission of light in fibres for optical communications". A researcher with more than 20 years of experience in the field, Prof. Wai is pleased to note that the discovery of fibre optics has revolutionized modern communication and at the same time also led to many other innovations of relevance to our daily life.

He commented that the development of optical fibre communications has advanced by leaps and bounces in the past four decades since Prof. Charles Kao's insight in using glass fibres for optical communications. He cited the example of the development of the next generation high capacity optical communication networks with Huawei Technologies, the leading communication equipment company in the world, by Prof. Lu Chao of Department of Electronic and Information Engineering and his colleagues. The experimental network is capable of a transmission rate of 100 gigabits per second to a distance of more than 1,500 km.

Prof. Wai also cited other recent examples to illustrate the novel uses of fibre optics by PolyU researchers. The University's Smart Railway Research Laboratory, which was jointly set up by PolyU and the then KCRC in 2004 to enhance the operation and safety of railways, also thrives on fibre optic sensor technologies developed by Prof. Tam Hwa-yaw of the Department of Electrical Engineering. Prof. Tam and his colleague Prof. Ho Siu-lau have been working closely with MTR to develop a novel "Fibre Optic Sensor System" for monitoring the train conditions and track activities. They also supported the installation of the system along the East Rail and West Rail for monitoring the "health and safety" of its tracks and trains. Similar monitoring systems will be installed in the Airport Express Line and the Light Rail soon.

With concerted efforts of PolyU researchers from various disciplines, the use of fibre optics has been extended to the field of construction. Led by Dr Ni Yi-qing of the Department of Civil and Structural Engineering, the team has integrated the use of fibre optics and other advanced technologies to develop the "Mega-Structure Diagnostic and Prognostic System". Not only does the System allow early identification of structural deterioration and damage for avoiding catastrophic structural failure, it also enables the assessment of structural safety after disasters. It can be applied to mega-structures like high-rise buildings and long-span bridges, and is being used for the construction of Guangzhou New TV Tower - the highest TV Tower in the world.

The University is also actively exploring collaboration opportunities with state authorities and other research institutions for further use of fibre optics-based advanced technology.

Evelyn Chan | Research asia research news
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