Optical fiber sensors utilizing Brillouin scattering rely on the principle that the Brillouin frequency shift is a function of the local temperature or strain. Conventional optical fibers, such as standard telecommunications single-mode fibers, have been successfully used in these applications, and most typically in the time domain, such as with BOTDR. Such conventional fibers however are susceptible simultaneously to both temperature and strain, requiring either at least two fibers or specialized cabling to distinguish the effects of a local stress from those of a local change in temperature. Recently, methods utilizing fibers possessing at least two Brillouin frequency shifts, each with different temperature or strain coefficients have been proposed. However, realizing such fibers is challenging, requiring fibers with regions of very different compositions, all of which must have substantial overlap with the optical field, posing significant manufacturing challenges. We present several new specialty optical fibers based on novel and unconventional fabrication techniques with significant potential for use in distributed fiber sensor systems. First, we describe a class of fibers fabricated from materials whose Brillouin frequency shifts are immune to either temperature or strain, with a demonstration of the former using fiber derived from sapphire crystal, and modeling and measurements predicting the latter. The ‘Brillouin-athermal’ fiber enables the measurement of a local strain, independent of the local temperature. Second, we describe and demonstrate a novel group of longitudinally graded (chirped) fibers enabling easily-implemented frequency-domain systems; affording the potential to simplify and reduce the cost of Brillouin-based distributed sensors.
Described herein, for the first time to the best of our knowledge, are results on optical fibers possessing significant compositional gradations along its length due to longitudinal control of the core glass composition. More specifically, MCVD-derived germanosilicate fibers were fabricated that exhibited a gradient of up to about 0.55 weight % GeO2 per meter. These gradients are about 1900 times greater than previously reported fibers possessing longitudinal changes in composition. The refractive index difference is shown to change by about 0.001, representing a numerical aperture change of about 10%, over a fiber length of less than 20 m. The lowest attenuation measured from the present longitudinally-graded fiber (LGF) was 82 dB/km at a wavelength of 1550 nm, though this is shown to result from extrinsic process-induced factors and could be reduced with further optimization. The stimulated Brillouin scattering (SBS) spectrum from the LGF exhibited a 4.4 dB increase in the spectral width, and thus reduction in Brillouin gain, relative to a standard commercial single mode fiber, over a fiber length of only 17 m. The method employed is very straight-forward and provides for a wide variety of longitudinal refractive index and acoustic velocity profiles, as well as core shapes, which could be especially valuable for SBS suppression in high-energy laser systems. Next generation analogs, with longitudinally-graded compositional profiles that are very reasonable to fabricate, are shown computationally to be more effective at suppressing SBS than present alternatives, such as externally-applied temperature or strain gradients.