Novel optical fibers made of methylcellulose

A team of scientists from Finland has presented a new type of optical fiber made of methylcellulose, a widely applied cellulose derivative. Such a fiber optic technology opens numerous applications of short-distance systems employing reliable and environmentally safe processing. 

It should be noted that standard silica glass optical fibers deliver laser beam light signals over long distances with a quite low optical loss. Herewith, these fiber optic systems offer high-capacity communication networks. Nevertheless, such properties of optical fibers as brittleness, low stretchability, and energy intensiveness limit their local short-range applications and their use in systems, for example, automotive, digital home appliances, fabrics, laser surgery, endoscopic fiber catheters, and implantable devices.

Additionally, such an advanced optical fiber solution is widely used in biopolymer-based fiber optic systems. Herewith, the cellulosic raw materials are highly accessible, therefore, their application is very promising practically thanks to sustainable fiber processing routes.

Usually, optical fibers made of polymer or plastic find their applications in short distances. However, the production of fiber optic systems supposes significantly high temperatures and the employment of dangerous chemical treatment. The application of methylcellulose hydrogel demonstrates the production of optical fibers at room temperature.

Moreover, the production of fiber optic systems is based on a simple extrusion technique without any chemical crosslinkers. Novel optical fibers made of methylcellulose provide the following benefits: high transparency, mechanical reliability, flexibility, and a low level of optical loss.

The methylcellulose optical fibers can not only transmit pure light signals but it is also possible to modify and functionalize them. Novel optical fibers can be used in multifunctional sensors thanks to the ability of the hydrogel matrix to add different molecules and nanoparticles without degrading the mechanical properties or light propagation properties.

For instance, “installing an extremely low mass fraction of protein-coated gold nanoclusters produced luminescent optical fibers, and acted as a fiber-based toxic metal ion sensor.” According to scientists, the test results and the choice of cellulosic derivatives and raw materials open new opportunities for further research and optimization of cellulose-derived fiber optic systems and elements.

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