Tag Archives: Photonics

Introduction to Electro-Optic Modulators

Electro-optics is a branch or topic in photonics that deals with the modulation, switching and redirection of optical signals. These functions are produced through the application of an electric field, which alters the optical properties of a material, such as the refractive index. The refractive index refers to the speed of light propagation in a medium relative to the speed of light in a vacuum.


Modulators vs. Switches

In a number of situations, the same device may function as both a modulator and a switch. One dependent factor on whether the device would be suitable or not for a switch as opposed to a modulator would be the strength of the effect that an electric field may have on the device. If the device’s primary role is to impress information onto a light wave signal through temporary varying of the signal, then it is referred to as a modulator. A switch on the other hand either changes the direction or spatial position of light or turns it off completely.



Theory of Operation

Electro-optic Effect

The electro-optic effect presumes the dependence of the refractive index on the the applied electric field. The change in refractive index, although small allows for various applications. For instance, a lens may be applied an electric field and depending on the material and the applied field, the focal length of the lens can change. Other optical instruments that utilize this effect may also see use, such as a prism. A very small adjustment to the refractive index may still produce a delay in the signal, still large enough to detect and, if information was implied by the delay that was produced on the signal, the delay can be phase demodulated at the receiving end.



Electroabsorption is also another effect that is used to modify the optical properties of a material by the application of an electric field. An applied electrical field may increase the bandgap of the optical semiconductor material, turning the material from optically transparent to optically opaque. This process is useful for making modulators and switches.


Kerr Effect and Pockels Effect

The Pockels Effect and the Kerr Effect both account for the change in refractive index through the application of an electric field. The Kerr Effect states that this effect is nonlinear, while the Pockels Effect states that the effect is linear. Although the Pockels Effect is more pronounced in Electro-optical modulator design, both are applied in many situations. The linear electro-optic effect exists only in crystals without inversion symmetry. The design of electro-optic modulators or switches requires special attention to the waveguide material and how the electric field reacts with the material. Common materials (also maintaining large Pockels coefficients) are GaAs, GaP, LiNbO3, LiTaO3 and quartz. The Kerr Effect is relatively weak in commonly used waveguide materials.


Properties of the Electro-Optic Modulator

Modulation Depth

Important for both modulators and switches is the modulation depth, also known as the modulation index. Modulation depth has applications for the several types of optical modulators, such as intensity modulators, phase modulators and interference modulators. The modulation depth may be conceptually understood as the ratio of effect that is applied to the signal. In other words, is the modulation very noticeable? Is it a strong modulation or is it a weak modulation?



The bandwidth of the modulator is critically important as it determines what range of signal frequencies may be modulated onto the optical signal. Switching time or switching speed may be equally applied to an optical switch.


Insertion Loss

Insertion loss of optical modulators and switches is a form of optical power loss and is expressed in dB. However, the result of insertion loss often results in the system requiring more electrical power and would not explicitly reduce performance of the modulation or switching function of the device.


Power Consumption

In distinction from the electric field, a modulator or switch also needs a power supply for itself. The amount of power required increases with modulation frequency. A common figure of merit is the drive power per unit bandwidth, typically expressed in milliwatts per megahertz.


References: [1], [4], [6]

Optics, Optoelectronics, Electro-Optics and Photonics

Optics vs. Photonics

What is the difference between Optics and Photonics? These words are sometimes used interchangeably. A distinction may be made however. Optics, on one hand is a very old subject, whereas Photonics is a term that has only recently been used. Photonics is a word which refers to devices that primarily involve the flow of photons as opposed to electronics, which deals with the flow of electrons. The main inventions that lead to the use of the word Photonics are the laser, fabrication of low-loss optical fibers and semiconductor optical devices. Other terms that are often used to refer to these inventions and their various applications are electro-optics, optoelectronics, quantum electronics, quantum optics and lightwave technology. Many of these terms may be used interchangeably, although some of them refer to specific technologies.

The first figure below may be viewed as an optical system, while the second figure may be referred to as a photonic system. The first figure features a light beam that is modulated, reflected and reflacted through a medium. The second figure is of a photonic integrated circuit device.




Electro-Optics is term for devices that incorporate both an optical and electrical properties, however are primarily optical devices. Examples of electro-optical devices are lasers and electro-optic modulators and switches.



Optoelectronics refers on the other hand to devices that are primarily electronic, but involve light, such as light-emitting diodes, photodetectors or liquid-crystal display devices.



Quantum Optics refers to the study of the quantum mechanical and coherence properties of light. Lightwave Technology typically is used to describe optical communications and optical signal processing devices and systems. Quantum Electronics is the study of technology concerned with the interaction of light and matter, such as lasers, optical amplifiers and optical wave mixing devices.

Fiber Optics (Introduction)

RF/Photonics Lab at UMASS Dartmouth
November 2019
Michael Benker

Fiber Optics

When the frequency of a signal is increased, so does the transfer rate. On the electromagnetic spectrum, light waves occupy frequency ranges of several hundred Terahertz. Fiber optics and photonics take advantage of the speed of light waves to allow for a different approach to data communications. When using light waves instead of electrical charges, this drastically alters the normal characteristics of electrical information transfer. A light wave being sent through glass in a fiber optic wire is no longer restricted to Ohm’s law for example, since a light wave will move through a resistor without any loss. Although light waves are susceptible to quantum noise, they are immune to noise caused by heat (in many cases, this means they are virtually noise-less). Fiber optics, due to their high data rates, flexibility and immunity to noise offer an extraordinary opportunity for scientific and engineering progress.