An integrated optical strain sensor based on a silicon-on-insulator (SOI) optical waveguide Mach-Zehnder interferometer has been demonstrated. The common problem of cross sensitivity to temperature changes has been greatly reduced by designing the lengths of the two interferometer arms to be exactly equal, in the absence of strain, so that thermally induced changes in the optical path lengths cancel out in the interference signal. The waveguide path in both arms of the interferometer has a long straight section and is folded back by a 180 degree bend. The straight section in one arm is perpendicular to that in the other arm so that the symmetry in the optical path lengths is broken when the applied strain in these two orthogonal directions is different. The interferometer output is thus a measure of the difference in strain along these two directions.
For the initial device, the interferometer's size was approximately 15 x 15 mm, with the straight sections in each of the two arms being 12 mm long. For TM polarized light at a wavelength of 1.55 microns, the interferometer output intensity was observed to vary sinusoidally with applied uniaxial strain at a rate of 10 degrees per microstrain. This is in good agreement with the theoretical prediction. The strain sensitivity, as limited by system noise, was below one microstrain. SOI is an ideal material choice for this device. It is suitable for passive fiber alignment using V-groove techniques, and the ability to use small waveguide bending radii makes possible sensors that are more compact than has been demonstrated here.