Fiber Optic

Fiber optic technology was first demonstrated in the 1840’s by Colladon and Babinet. Fiber optic tubes refract light within glass tubes with little loss of light over the length of the tube.

In 1880 Alexander Graham Bell developed the technology to transmit voice signals over an optical beam. Bundled together, fiber optic cables are immune to electrical interference making them good for use in computer networking. Fiber optic transmissions are also much harder to snoop and are therefore considered more secure.

How does it work?

Light travels down a fiber-optic cable by bouncing repeatedly off the walls. Each tiny photon (particle of light) bounces down the pipe like a bobsleigh going down an ice run. Now you might expect a beam of light, traveling in a clear glass pipe, simply to leak out of the edges. But if light hits glass at a really shallow angle (less than 42 degrees), it reflects back in again as though the glass were really a mirror. This phenomenon is called total internal reflection. It’s one of the things that keeps light inside the pipe.

The other thing that keeps light in the pipe is the structure of the cable, which is made up of two separate parts. The main part of the cable in the middle is called the core and that’s the bit the light travels through. Wrapped around the outside of the core is another layer of glass called the cladding. The cladding’s job is to keep the light signals inside the core. It can do this because it is made of a different type of glass to the core. (More technically, the cladding has a lower refractive index.)

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