ECE PhD Dissertation Defense: Zelin Ma

  • Starts: 10:00 am on Wednesday, March 22, 2023
  • Ends: 12:00 pm on Wednesday, March 22, 2023


Presenter: Zelin Ma

Advisor: Professor Siddharth Ramachandran

Chair: TBA

Committee: Professor David Bishop, Professor Miloš Popović, Dr. Poul Kristensen

Abstract: The growth of data capacity in optical communications links, which form the critical backbone of the modern internet, is facing a slowdown due to fundamental nonlinear limitations, leading to an impending "capacity crunch" on the horizon. Current technology has already exhausted degrees of freedom such as wavelength, amplitude, phase and polarization, leaving spatial multiplexing as the last available dimension to be efficiently exploited. To minimize the significant energy requirements associated with digital signal processing, it is critical to explore the upper limit of unmixed spatial channels in an optical fiber, which necessitates ideally packing spatial channels either in real space or in momentum space. The former strategy is realized by uncoupled multi-core fibers whose channel count has already saturated due to reliability constraint limiting fiber sizes. The later strategy is realized by the unmixed multimode fiber whose high spatial efficiency suggest the possibility of high channel-count scalability but the right subset of mode ought to be selected in order to mitigate mode coupling that is ever-present due to the plethora of perturbations a fiber normally experiences. The azimuthal modes in ring-core fibers turn out to be one of the most spatially efficient in this regard, by exploiting light’s orbital angular momentum (OAM). Unmixed mode counts have reached 12 in a ~1km fiber and 24 in a ~10m fiber. However, there is a fundamental bottleneck for scalability of conventionally bound modes and their relatively high crosstalks restricts their utility to device length applications.

In this thesis, we provide a fundamental solution to further fuel the unmixed-channel count in an MMF. We utilize the phenomenon of topological confinement, which is a regime of light guidance beyond conventional cutoff that has, to the best of our knowledge, never been demonstrated till publications based on the subject matter of this thesis. In this regime, light is guided by the centrifugal barrier created by light’s OAM itself rather than conventional total internal reflection arising from the index inhomogeneity of the fiber. The loss of these topologically confined modes (TCMs) decreases down to negligible levels by increasing the OAM of fiber modes, because the centrifugal barrier that keeps photons confined to a fiber core increases with the OAM value of the mode. This leads to low-loss transmission in a km-scale fiber of these cutoff modes. Crucially, the mode-dependent confinement loss of TCMs further lifts the degeneracy of wavevectors in the complex space, leading to frustration of phase-matched coupling. This thus allows further scaling the mode count that was previously hindered by degenerate mode coupling in conventionally bound fiber modes. The frustrated coupling of TCMs thus enables a record amount of unmixed OAM modes in any type of fiber that features a high index contrast, whether specially structured as a ring-core, or simply constructed as a step index waveguide. Using all these favorable attributes, we achieve up to 50 low-loss modes with record low crosstalk (approaching -45 dB/km) over a 130-nm bandwidth in a ~1km-long ring-core fiber. The TCM effect promises to be inherently scalable, suggesting that even higher modes counts can be obtained in the future using this design methodology. Hence, the use of TCMs promises breaking the record spectral efficiency, potentially making it the choice for transmission links in future SDM systems.

Apart from their chief attribute of significantly increasing the information content per photon for quantum or classical networks, we expect that this new light guidance may find other applications such as in nonlinear signal processing and light-matter interactions.