The planar waveguide optical couplers are of prime importance in optical communication and optical signal processing system. Comparing with the optical fiber coupler (OFC) which fabricated by fused biconical taper technology, the planar waveguide couplers are more compact size, lower loss, better uniformity, easier manufacture and integration. Multimode interference (MMI) couplers have many advantages, such as compact size, wavelength and polarization insensitivity, fabrication tolerances and low loss, etc., which concentrate more and more attention.
Conventional MMI devices are based on the uniform index waveguides. When the number of input/output waveguides becomes larger, the intrinsic propagation constant error, which will cause bad uniformity of output power, can’t be neglected. In fact, most waveguide devices are graded-index. With the enhanced compatibility of MMI coupler, the performance can be improved at the same time. Prior study shows that graded-index MMI couplers reach the best performance under certain index contrast. Among many available materials, glass is chosen to be the substrate of the coupler, because of its good features, such as low loss, ease fabrication, cheap cost, and so on. In this paper, an 8×8 MMI optical coupler is designed based on the principle of graded-index MMI. The coupler is composed of a waveguide, which is designed to support a large number of modes, and several access (usually single-mode) waveguides, which are used to launch light into and recover light from that multimode waveguide. The total length of the device is less than 3.5 centimeter, including S-bends which lead the multiple images to the output of the device with the spacing D=250μm to make the device fiber compatible.
In this paper, we describe an experimental realization of the 8×8 graded-index MMI optical coupler and the measurement of its performance with the testing laser of the wavelength of 1.55μm. The device is fabricated by ion-exchange on BK7 glass substrate. During the ion-exchange process, a melting mixture of AgNO3 : (KNO3 : NaNO3) (molar ratio, 0.001:1) is used at 350~380°C for different times (range from 8 to 18 hours) to fabricate the coupler. The experimental results show that the performance of the optical coupler is quite promising. For instance, while launching light from No.5 waveguide, the uniformity of the device is approximately 0.72dB. Optimization of design and fabrication is going on to improve the total performance of the optical coupler.