Fiber optic cables are effective vehicles for long-distance data transmission but are limited by their fragility. When subjected to tensile forces, glass fibers are prone to microcracking and breakage. A solution in the form of a stretchable fiber with improved optical and mechanical properties has been engineered at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (Empa).

The new optical fiber consists of a continuous liquid glycerol core contained within a transparent The glycerol-filled fiber withstands bending. Source: EmpaThe glycerol-filled fiber withstands bending. Source: Empafluoropolymer sheath. The capacity of the liquid-filled fiber to transmit data in the form of light pulses is approximately equal to that of solid plastic optical fibers, but it has much higher tensile strength.

A fluorescent dye added to the glycerol enables analysis of optical properties as the fiber is stretched. A small change in the color of emitted light was observed, confirming that the liquid-filled fiber can signal a change in length or a tensile load that is occurring. Unlike solid core optical fibers, the new device can withstand up to 10% elongation and then returns to its original length

In addition to its contribution to less fragile data transmission, the fiber could also be applied for force transmission in micromotors or microhydraulic systems.

To contact the author of this article, email shimmelstein@globalspec.com