Nirmala Kandadai, an assistant Professor in Electrical Engineering received an IGEM Commerce grant of $130,000 to support her research of nanoparticle coatings for optical fibers, in collaboration with associate professor Harish Subbaraman, and director of advanced technologies Devinder Saini of Fiberguide Industries, a Molex company.
“Silica (glass)-based optical fibers are used in the telecom industry for sending data over a long distance; the entire internet revolution from hi-speed internet to wide accessibility has been made accessible using optical fiber. They are also used as temperature/pressure/stress sensors across a wide range of applications from civil engineering structures to submarines,” Kandadai said.
Optical fibers are very delicate and fragile, requiring special material coatings to make them more durable.
“A major issue for the longest time (in the 1950s) were glass fibers were sensitive to wear and tear and it was discovered that by coating them with either metal or polymer, these fibers became extremely robust against mechanical damage. They are extremely sensitive and can detect the smallest change in temp/pressure or stress,” Kandadai said.
However, these current metal and polymer coatings prevent them from being used in harsh environments, such as within the human body or within a nuclear reactor.
“We believe that the coatings and coating methods we are developing would enable newer applications for these fibers, without increasing the cost to manufacture,” Subbaraman said.
In this research, the collaborators will create innovative nanoparticle based coatings for optical fibers, with the goal to broaden the field of novel applications for these fibers.
“The main excitement with our research is we are able to expand this amazing optical fiber technology into the medical and harsh environment fields by introducing novel coatings that can be applied to the fibers,” Kandadai explained.