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October 1, 2000 / Vol. 25, No.


Supercontinuum generation in tapered fibers

T. A. Birks, W. J. Wadsworth, and P. St. J. Russell

Optoelectronics Group, Department of Physics, University of Bath, Claverton Down, Bath BA2 7AY, UK

Received May 31, 2000

Supercontinuum light with a spectrum more than two octaves broad (370 – 1545 nm at the 20-dB level) was
generated in a standard telecommunications fiber by femtosecond pulses from an unamplified Ti:sapphire
laser. The fiber had been tapered to a diameter of ⬃2 mm over a 90-mm length. The pulse energy was
3.9 nJ (average power, 300 mW). This source of high-intensity single-mode white light should find widespread
applications in frequency metrology and spectroscopy, especially since no unconventional fibers are needed.
© 2000 Optical Society of America
OCIS codes: 060.4370, 060.2340, 120.3940, 190.4370.

There was recently much excitement over the genera- Signif icant nonlinear spectral broadening is therefore
tion of ultrabroadband supercontinuum light1 in a mi- expected despite the strong dispersion. Indeed, the
crostructure photonic crystal fiber (PCF).2 This fiber anomalous dispersion helps to counteract the normal
is an undoped silica– air structure in which a small dispersion suffered by the pulses en route to the taper
core (1 2 mm across) is surrounded by large air holes. waist.
The spectra span more than an octave and retain the Tapered f ibers with short 共⬃35-mm兲 transitions and
longitudinal mode structure of the mode-locked laser long (90-mm) waists of uniform diameter 共⬃2 mm兲 were
source, which recently led to spectacular advances in formed by use of a traveling f lame.7 The overall op-
optical frequency metrology.3 There are also many tical insertion loss was typically ⬃0.2 dB. Each fiber
applications of such supercontinuum generation in was promptly glued at both ends in an enclosed hous-
pulse compression, spectroscopy, and dispersion mea- ing after being made, but the waist and transitions re-
surement. Unfortunately the need for a special fiber mained surrounded by air.
means that the technique is not widely available. The unamplified Ti:sapphire laser (Coherent Mira
We report the generation of similarly broad super- 900) emitted 70– 100-fs pulses with a repetition rate
continuum light in a conventional telecommunications of 76 MHz 共l 苷 850 nm兲. However, after passing
fiber that has been tapered. Femtosecond pulses through an isolator and launch optics, the pulses
from an unamplif ied Ti:sapphire laser were spectrally spread to 200– 500 fs. The light was coupled into
broadened into a supercontinuum that could span each taper’s input fiber, which we kept short to mini-
more than two octaves from the ultraviolet to the mize further normal dispersion of the pulses. The
third telecommunications window (370– 1545 nm at output f iber was ⬃1 m long.
the 20-dB level). Guided by f iber in a single mode The output light was visible as a very intense
with an average spectral density of 0.25 mW nm21 , far-f ield spot, as shown in Fig. 3. Both the untapered
this white light has the brightness of a laser with the fiber and the taper waist were multimode wave-
bandwidth of a light bulb. guides for visible and Ti:sapphire laser light, yet the
The fiber (Corning SMF-28; cutoff wavelength, supercontinuum light was always generated in the
1250 nm; N.A., 0.1) was tapered by means of heating fundamental mode.
and stretching in a f lame. Figure 1 depicts the re- The output spectra from two f ibers that were
sulting structure, with a narrow taper waist connected identically tapered to 1.8-mm diameter are plotted
to untapered f ibers by taper transitions. The residual in Fig. 4 for a time-averaged laser power of 300 mW
fiber core is so small that the waist is effectively a (pulse energy, 3.9 nJ). The spectra cover more
simple thread of silica in air, guiding light at the outer than two octaves in frequency: 370 –1545 nm at the
boundary. The PCF described above also resembles a 20-dB level in Fig. 4(b). Unlike all the other spectra
silica thread4 and so has similar nonlinear properties. reported here, the fiber tapered to give the results
The large refractive-index step between silica and shown in Fig. 4(b) had a cutoff wavelength of 735 nm
air allows light to be funneled into a very small area instead of 1250 nm and so was single mode at the
共⬃1 mm2 兲, increasing its intensity and promoting
nonlinear effects. For example, enhanced self-phase
modulation was observed in tapered fibers by Dumais
et al.5 Furthermore, the group-velocity dispersion
(GVD) of the guided mode can be reduced or even
made anomalous at visible and near-infrared wave-
lengths (Fig. 2). For a 1.8-mm-diameter waist the
calculated GVD and the nonlinear effective area (for
wavelength l 苷 850 nm) are 1122 ps nm21 km21 and
1.2 mm2 , giving nonlinear and dispersion lengths of Fig. 1. Schematic diagram of a tapered fiber. Light in
0.6 and 150 mm, respectively,6 with our laser pulses. the core expands to fill the whole fiber in the taper waist.

0146-9592/00/191415-03$15.00/0 © 2000 Optical Society of America

1416 OPTICS LETTERS / Vol. 25, No. 19 / October 1, 2000

[Recall that waist diameter determines GVD (see

Fig. 2) as well as effective area.] The meaning of this
comparison for different powers is limited, but, as well
as requiring less power, smaller diameters produce
spectra that are less f lat: a “bite” is progressively
taken from visible wavelengths. The mean photon
energy appears to decrease, suggesting a greater
contribution to spectral broadening from Raman
As expected, no spectral broadening was observed in
untapered f iber.
These results show that tapered f ibers, like PCF’s,
are effective media for the nonlinear generation of ul-
trabroadband high-intensity single-mode light. Fur-
thermore, despite the limited interaction length and
Fig. 2. Calculated GVD of a taper waist in air versus
(a) diameter for l 苷 850 nm (the asymptote is the GVD
of silica) and (b) l for (left to right) diameters of 1.0, 1.5,
and 2.5 mm, and for bulk silica. Positive values represent
anomalous dispersion.

Fig. 5. Output spectra from a tapered fiber with a 2-mm

waist, for (top to bottom) average powers of 380, 210, and
60 mW, with the input spectrum. The curves are scaled
vertically for comparison; the output spectra all had ap-
proximately the same peak value.

Fig. 3. Visible output far-f ield pattern from one of the ta-
pered fibers.

Fig. 4. Output spectra from tapered f ibers with waists

of 1.8-mm diameter for an average laser power of
300 mW. The cutoff wavelengths of the untapered fibers
were (a) 1250 nm (Corning SMF-28) and (b) 735 nm (New-
port F-SF). The dashed curves are the input spectra,
scaled vertically for comparison.

laser wavelength. However, Figs. 4(a) and 4(b) are

similar because the only difference between the two
taper waists is their insignif icant residual cores.
Figure 5 shows the effect of laser power (or pulse en-
ergy) on the output spectrum. Increasing the power Fig. 6. Output spectra for waist diameters and average
broadens the spectrum without increasing its peak. powers of (a) 2.5 mm and 430 mW, (b) 2.0 mm and 380 mW,
Spectra for four different waist diameters, two of which (c) 1.8 mm and 300 mW, (d) 1.5 mm and 70 mW. The
appeared in Figs. 4 and 5, are compared in Fig. 6. dashed curves are the (vertically scaled) input spectra.
October 1, 2000 / Vol. 25, No. 19 / OPTICS LETTERS 1417

the need for protection from dust and damage, distinct diameter of ⬃2 mm. Femtosecond pulses from an
advantages can be identif ied. No special fiber is re- unamplified Ti:sapphire laser are sufficient to produce
quired, only standard widely available telecommunica- a spectrum more than two octaves broad at the 20-dB
tions f iber. Even though the f iber is multimode, the level. More generally, our results show that long
supercontinuum is generated in the fundamental mode. lengths, high powers, or complex structures are not
The output is immediately compatible with the famil- necessary for demonstration of exciting optical non-
iar techniques and devices (e.g., fusion splices, connec- linearities in fused silica. Tapered fibers should be
tors, directional couplers) of conventional f iber optics. effective hosts for a wealth of other nonlinear effects
Although the nonlinear interaction occurs in a nar- besides supercontinuum generation.
row waist, the laser pulses are coupled into untapered
This work was partially supported by the Engineer-
fiber with a much larger core than a PCF, ⬃9 mm in
ing and Physical Sciences Research Council. T. A.
diameter. Hence the input light need not be tightly
Birks is a Royal Society University Research Fellow.
focused, simplifying alignment and making the fiber
T. A. Birks’s e-mail address is
end face less prone to optical damage than that of a
PCF. The tapered fiber itself is surprisingly robust.
None of our samples deteriorated over the several days References
available. Indeed, one tapered f iber in its housing ac- 1. J. K. Ranka, R. S. Windeler, and A. J. Stentz, Opt. Lett.
cidentally fell 1 m onto a hard f loor without being de- 25, 25 (2000).
stroyed. (This experiment was successfully repeated.) 2. J. C. Knight, T. A. Birks, P. St. J. Russell, and D. M.
Tapering is a well-known technique, widely used Atkin, Opt. Lett. 21, 1547 (1996); errata 22, 484 (1997).
commercially to make fiber beam splitters. It takes 3. See, for example, T. W. Hänsch, R. Holzwarth, J. Re-
only minutes to taper a fiber, so we could produce a va- ichert, and T. Udem, in Digest of Quantum Electronics
riety of samples quickly and easily. It is also straight- and Laser Science Conference (Optical Society of Amer-
forward to form nonuniform taper waists with a given ica, Washington, D.C., 2000), p. 109.
diameter prof ile. From Fig. 2, such a controlled 4. T. A. Birks, D. Mogilevtsev, J. C. Knight, and P. St. J.
Russell, IEEE Photon. Technol. Lett. 11, 674 (1999).
diameter variation causes a controlled dispersion vari-
5. P. Dumais, F. Gonthier, S. Lacroix, J. Bures, A. Vil-
ation, a degree of freedom that is hard to implement leneuve, P. G. R. Wigley, and G. I. Stegeman, Opt. Lett.
in PCF but that should give greater control over the 18, 1996 (1993).
supercontinuum spectrum. 6. G. P. Agrawal, Nonlinear Fiber Optics, 2nd ed. (Aca-
In conclusion, we have demonstrated how an ultra- demic, San Diego, Calif., 1995).
broad supercontinuum can be generated in standard 7. T. A. Birks and Y. W. Li, IEEE J. Lightwave Technol.
telecommunications f iber that has been tapered to a 10, 432 (1992).