Fiber bragg gratings in polymer optical fibers

Polymer optical fibers (POF) have received increased attention in recent years in the fields of data communication and sensing applications. The lower cost and higher flexibility are the main advantages of POF compared to silica fibers and make them interesting candidates for Fiber Bragg grating (FBG) sensor applications. FBG are convenient measurement devices for strain and temperature measurements, as they can be multiplexed within one fiber yielding a sensor array and the fiber can be embedded in structures. This work investigated the possibility of producing FBG in polymer fibers and their use as sensor units. It could be shown that using excimer laser irradiation at 308 nm, it is possible to write FBG in single-mode POF employing a standard phase mask, side writing technique. Index changes of up to 1.7 × 10-4 and reflectivies of up to 87% could be reached. The induced refractive index change due to pulsed UV irradiation was shown to be negative. The polymer material of the core (Polystyrene (PS) / Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA)) was not sensitized prior to irradiation. During the grating formation an irradiation induced insertion loss of up to 11 dB/cm was observed. Excimer laser written FBG showed stability of over 9 months for approximately 40% of written FBG. Results of FBG writing using femto second laser irradiation showed FBG with reflectivities of up to 1.2 × 10-4, however these POFBG were not stable. The POFBG were characterized using optical low coherence reflectometry (OLCR) which enables to calculate the FBG location and length as well as the induced amplitude Δnac and mean refractive index change Δndc. Taking into account fiber and insertion losses, good agreement of these calculations and measurements were found. The results show that large variations of the induced index change result from irradiation. Local index change peaks of up to 4 times the mean value were observed, indicating inhomogeneity of the fiber material. Birefringence in the core of the POF (≈ 1.2 × 10-3) is up to a factor 3 higher than in the cladding which is due to the PS content within the core. The birefringence is due to inelastic strain and stress induced in the drawing process. Annealing, uniform irradiation and FBG writing using 308 nm excimer laser light induces a decrease of the absolute birefringence value. The changes upon irradiation are confined to the core of the fiber. Large variations in the initial and final birefringence before and after irradiation support the findings of the OLCR measurements indicating material inhomogeneities in the fiber. POFBG were found to be sensitive to relative humidity, temperature and strain. This is in contrast to glass fiber FBG which do not show humidity sensitivity. POFBG relative humidity sensitivity is non-linear with a change of up to 8 nm for a RH change of ≈ 100%. The non-linearity is introduced by a non-linear water sorption process. The POF grating response to temperature changes under dry conditions (1.5±1 % RH) is –10±0.5 pm/°C. The temperature response of the FBG submerged in water is –36±2 pm/°C due to an increased thermal expansion coefficient and a change in polarizability. Under ambient conditions the grating response to heating is typically ≈ –138 pm/°C, predominantly due to a change in POF swelling, i.e changes in relative humidity and POF water content. The diffusion coefficient of water in this POF at 23.5°C is 6.7 × 10-9cm2/s for sorption and 10 × 10-9cm2/s for desorption. Equilibrium of water content within the fiber and the surrounding air is typically reached after approximately one hour. Calculation showed that a reduction of the fiber diameter can increase this humidity sensitivity response time down to approximately 5 minutes for a fiber diameter of 25 µm.

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