Propagation time through standard optical fibres changes with temperature at a rate of 40 ps/km/K. This can pose significant challenges in many diverse application areas of optical fibres in physics and engineering. Primary examples lie in applications in which very precise timing signals need to be disseminated for synchronization purposes in large experimental infrastructures such as synchrotrons, linear particle accelerators, large telescope arrays, and in phase arrayed antennae. A value of 40 ps/km/K equates to a phase temperature sensitivity of about 48 rad/m/K. This can adversely affect many applications relying on fibre interferometers (e.g. fibre optic sensors, quantum-optics, interferometric measurement techniques, and so on), in which maintaining stable interference would require temperature stabilization below mK level. Similarly, a few key optical metrology applications require the dissemination of optical signals at a precise frequency, for example to compare distant ultra-precise clocks (e.g., national standard clocks) with a precision (fractional stability) at/below the 10-18 level. Such a level of precision is easily compromised by thermally-induced changes in optical path length (temperature drift) with time that unavoidably result in a Doppler frequency shift.
Here, we review our recent results in which we show why and how Hollow-Core Fibres (HCF) are significantly better than solid-core fibres in terms of their sensitivity of propagation time and accumulated phase change to temperature and thus are a better alternative to standard fibres in the above-mentioned fields.
Flexible dielectric optical fibers guiding light in a hollow core were conceptually imagined at the end of the 19th century, but first demonstrated in practice about 2 decades ago. Since then, many geometric variants have been described and implemented, and theoretical models developed and finessed. Despite this, for a fairly long time the key metric by which their performance was judged – attenuation – has remained quite considerably higher than standard all-glass fibers. In this paper, we describe the recent breakthroughs in hollow core fiber technology. We trace the story of this breakthrough from the theoretical exploration of a new design of hollow core fiber, through early implementations, up to the staggering results achieved over the last 18 months. The progress reported concerns not only a reduction in the fiber attenuation level, but also a considerable improvement in modal quality of the fibers, which have led to excellent data transmission performance. These fabricated fibers tell a story of improvements in all aspects of the technology, including preform preparation, performance modelling, fiber draw dynamics and coatings.