Polymer optical fiber sensors---a revie shuman/NEXT/MATERIALSCOMPONENTS...Polymer optical fiber...

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  • Polymer optical fiber sensorsa review

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    2011 Smart Mater. Struct. 20 013002


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    Smart Mater. Struct. 20 (2011) 013002 (17pp) doi:10.1088/0964-1726/20/1/013002


    Polymer optical fiber sensorsa reviewKara Peters

    Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, North Carolina State University,Campus Box 7910, Raleigh, NC 27695, USA

    E-mail: kjpeters@ncsu.edu

    Received 2 July 2010, in final form 4 October 2010Published 23 December 2010Online at stacks.iop.org/SMS/20/013002

    AbstractPolymer optical fibers (POFs) have significant advantages for many sensing applications,including high elastic strain limits, high fracture toughness, high flexibility in bending, highsensitivity to strain and potential negative thermo-optic coefficients. The recent emergence ofsingle-mode POFs has enabled high precision, large deformation optical fiber sensors. Thisarticle describes recent advances in both multi-mode and single-mode POF based strain andtemperature sensors. The mechanical and optical properties of POFs relevant to strain andtemperature applications are first summarized. POFs considered include multi-mode POFs,solid core single-mode POFs and microstructured single-mode POFs. Practical methods forapplying POF sensors, including connecting and embedding sensors in structural materials, arealso described. Recent demonstrations of multi-mode POF sensors in structural applicationsbased on new interrogation methods, including backscattering and time-of-flight measurements,are outlined. The phasedisplacement relation of a single-mode POF undergoing largedeformation is presented to build a fundamental understanding of the response of single-modePOF sensors. Finally, this article highlights recent single-mode POF based sensors based onpolymer fiber Bragg gratings and microstructured POFs.

    (Some figures in this article are in colour only in the electronic version)

    1. Introduction

    Polymer optical fibers (POFs), also referred to as plastic opticalfibers, have many of the same advantages as conventionalsilica optical fibers for sensing applications. These includelow weight, immunity to electromagnetic interference andmultiplexing capabilities. In general, POFs provide a muchlower cost alternative to silica optical fibers, albeit with highertransmission losses. POFs have thus been applied for datatransmission over short distances, e.g. local to home Internetconnections and automotive applications [1]. As sensors,POFs have additional advantages, including high elastic strainlimits, high fracture toughness, high flexibility in bending,high sensitivity to strain and potential negative thermo-opticcoefficients. Polymers also have excellent compatibility withorganic materials, giving them great potential for biomedicalapplications. Previously, sensors based on multi-mode POFshave been successfully applied to take advantages of theseproperties. Unfortunately, due to the characteristics of

    multi-mode fibers, these sensors are generally larger thancomparable single-mode, silica fiber sensors and producelower measurement accuracy and resolution. However, recentsuccesses in both the fabrication of single-mode POFs andnew interrogation methods for multi-mode POF sensors haveenabled large deformation, high precision sensors.

    The goal of this article is to highlight these recentadvances and present the new sensor capabilities expected fromthis rapidly growing field. Additionally, the article will discussthe particular challenges and advantages to working with POFsensors as compared with silica fiber based sensors1. Here wewill focus on strain and temperature measurements; Zubia andArrue [3] and Bartlett et al [4] list many examples of chemicalsensors based on multi-mode POFs. The properties of POFsare first reviewed, including multi-mode; solid core, single-mode; and microstructured, single-mode POFs. Next, practical

    1 It is assumed that the reader has previous experience with silica optical fibersensors. If the reader is not familiar with optical fiber sensors in general,Measures [2] is a good starting reference.

    0964-1726/11/013002+17$33.00 2011 IOP Publishing Ltd Printed in the UK & the USA1


  • Smart Mater. Struct. 20 (2011) 013002 Topical Review

    Figure 1. Attenuation loss of common optical polymers as a function of wavelength (adapted from [3], copyright (2001), with permissionfrom Elsevier).

    issues in applying POF sensors, including connectorizing andintegrating them into structures, are discussed. Finally, specificsensors demonstrating the potential of each of these POF typesare highlighted.

    2. Properties of POFs

    POFs have the same geometry as silica optical fibers, witha core, cladding and sometimes a jacket. A history of thedevelopment of POFs can be found in Zubia and Arrue [3].A variety of optical polymers are used in the fabricationof POFs, including polymethyl-methacrylate (PMMA), amor-phous fluorinated polymer (CYTOP), polystyrene (PS) andpolycarbonate (PC). Ziemann et al [5] gives an extensiveoverview of common POF materials and their properties.Unlike silica optical fibers, POFs are primarily available asmulti-mode fibers, which have larger diameters and propagatemultiple, interacting modes. Since the larger diameter of multi-mode POFs makes them easier to handle, cleave and connect,multi-mode POF sensors are often promoted as less expensiveand easier to install than their silica counterparts. While thisis a true benefit for multi-mode POF sensors, care should betaken as the same does not hold for single-mode POF basedsensors.

    For strain measurement applications, the primary advan-tage to polymeric sensing materials are their ductile behaviorand high elastic strain limits. For example, PMMA hasan elastic limit around 10%, as compared to 13% forsilica [6]. Lesser known advantages to POFs are their increasedsensitivity to strain (strain-optic coefficient) and their potentialnegative thermo-optic coefficient [7]. PMMA also has a lowerdensity (1195 kg m3) than silica (2200 kg m3), producinglower weight optical fibers [8]. The following sections reviewthe optical and mechanical behavior of POFs necessary tounderstand the performance of POF based sensors.

    2.1. Optical behavior

    The two loss properties that define the transmission quality ofan optical fiber are attenuation and dispersion. The attenuationcoefficient, , is a measure of the power loss of a lightwavepropagating through the optical fiber per unit distance and isdefined as

    P(z) = P(0)10z/10 (1)where z is the distance along the optical fiber axis, P(0) is theinput power of the lightwave and P(z) is the output power ata distance z [9]. The sources of attenuation in optical fiberscan be divided into two types: intrinsic and extrinsic [3].Intrinsic sources are inherent to the material (e.g. materialabsorption, Rayleigh scattering), whereas extrinsic sources areintroduced during manufacturing of the fiber (e.g. structuralimperfections, microbends). The intrinsic attenuation loss ofcommon optical polymers is plotted in figure 1 as a functionof wavelength. As seen in figure 1, the primary differencesin attenuation properties between POF and silica optical fibersare: (1) the inherent attenuation in optical polymers is ordersof magnitude greater than those in silica and (2) at wavelengthsabove 700 nm, the attenuation of optical polymers increaseswith wavelength whereas the attenuation of silica decreases.The difference in magnitude means attenuation is often acritical factor in designing a POF sensor system, and the lengthof the sensor can be limited by this condition. The seconddifference means that POF sensors are typically designed tooperate in one of three windows. The first two windows arearound 850 nm, where some commercial telecoms componentsare available, and the visible wavelength range (400700 nm),where the POF attenuation is minimal. In contrast, silicaoptical fiber based sensor systems typically operate in the near-infrared wavelength range (13001600 nm). As improvementsare made to reduce the attenuation of POFs, a third windowof operation for POF sensors is now this same near-infraredwavelength range, where existing telecoms instrumentation,originally designed for silica fibers, can be applied.


  • Smart Mater. Struct. 20 (2011) 013002 Topical Review

    Dispersion is a measure of signal broadening due tothe wavelength dependent speed of propagation through theoptical fiber and it limits transmission over long distances.Several of the sensors to be discussed in this review havelong gauge lengths, for which the dispersion properties of thePOFs are important. As a pulsed lightwave propagates throughan optical fiber it broadens mainly due to two phenomena:(1) the finite bandwidth of the laser source incorporatesdifferent wavelengths which travel at different speeds throughthe optical