Prototype NIST device measures absolute optical power in fiber at nanowatt levels

December 21, 2011

Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have demonstrated a prototype device capable of absolute measurements of optical power delivered through an optical fiber.

The device is the world's first fiber-coupled cryogenic radiometer that links optical fiber power measurements directly to fundamental electrical units and national standards. It uses a microscopic forest of carbon nanotubes--the world's darkest material--to measure values that are about one-thousandth of the levels typically attained with a cryogenic radiometer lacking direct fiber input capability.* With improvements in temperature control and speed, the device could meet the needs for ultraprecise calibrations at ultralow power in telecommunications, medical devices and other industries.

Optical power and energy are traceable to fundamental electrical units. Radiometers absorb optical energy and convert it to heat. Then the electrical power needed to induce the same temperature increase is measured. Because optical and electrical heating are not exactly equivalent, measurement uncertainties can be relatively large from a metrology point of view.

The demonstration is also a step toward converting radiometry from a classical practice based on electrical units to a quantum practice based on single particles of light (photons).

"We have many customers who request optical power measurements in fiber, mainly for optical communications," project leader John Lehman says. "Also, our single-photon measurements are done in fiber."

The new radiometer is about 70 millimeters (mm) long and incorporates a 1.45-mm-thick optical fiber capped by a light-trapping cavity at one end with the nanotube absorber and a heater. The ultra-dark nanotubes** are grown on a tiny X-shaped piece of micromachined silicon. Light absorption was so high it was difficult to determine measurement uncertainties; Lehman travelled to a special facility at the National Physical Laboratory (the British equivalent of NIST) to make some measurements.

Experiments and calculations indicate the new radiometer can measure a power level of 10 nanowatts with an uncertainty of 0.1 percent. By comparison, typical measurements of optical power delivered through fiber have an uncertainty of 3 percent or more at similar power levels. More importantly, these commercial devices rely on a series of calibrations to establish traceability to national standards.

NIST aims to develop an absolute quantum standard for optical power and energy based on single photons. The effort includes development of sources and detectors spanning a wide range of optical power measurements, from single photon counts to trillions of photons. Single photons are already used in quantum communications systems, which offer novel capabilities such as detecting extremely weak optical signals and providing quantum guarantees on security.
* D. Livigni, N. Tomlin, C.L. Cromer and J.H. Lehman. Fiber-coupled cryogenic radiometer with carbon nanotube absorber. Paper presented at 11th International Conference on New Developments and Applications in Optical Radiometry (NEWRAD 2011), Maui, Hawaii, Sept. 19-23, 2011.

D.J. Livigni, N.A. Tomlin, C.L. Cromer and J.H. Lehman. Optical fiber-coupled cryogenic radiometer with carbon nanotube absorber. Metrologia. Forthcoming.

** See the 2010 NIST Tech Beat article, "Extreme Darkness: Carbon Nanotube Forest Covers NIST's Ultra-dark Detector" at

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

Related Photons Articles from Brightsurf:

An electrical trigger fires single, identical photons
Researchers at Berkeley Lab have found a way to generate single, identical photons on demand.

Single photons from a silicon chip
Quantum technology holds great promise: Quantum computers are expected to revolutionize database searches, AI systems, and computational simulations.

Physicists "trick" photons into behaving like electrons using a "synthetic" magnetic field
Scientists have discovered an elegant way of manipulating light using a ''synthetic'' Lorentz force -- which in nature is responsible for many fascinating phenomena including the Aurora Borealis.

Scientists use photons as threads to weave novel forms of matter
New research from the University of Southampton has successful discovered a way to bind two negatively charged electron-like particles which could create opportunities to form novel materials for use in new technological developments.

The nature of nuclear forces imprinted in photons
IFJ PAN scientists together with colleagues from the University of Milano (Italy) and other countries confirmed the need to include the three-nucleon interactions in the description of electromagnetic transitions in the 20O atomic nucleus.

Pushing photons
UC Santa Barbara researchers continue to push the boundaries of LED design a little further with a new method that could pave the way toward more efficient and versatile LED display and lighting technology.

Photons and electrons one on one
The dynamics of electrons changes ever so slightly on each interaction with a photon.

An advance in molecular moviemaking shows how molecules respond to two photons of light
Some of the molecules' responses were surprising and others had been seen before with other techniques, but never in such detail or so directly, without relying on advance knowledge of what they should look like.

The imitation game: Scientists describe and emulate new quantum state of entangled photons
A research team from ITMO University, MIPT and Politecnico di Torino, has predicted a novel type of topological quantum state of two photons.

What if we could teach photons to behave like electrons?
The researchers tricked photons - which are intrinsically non-magnetic - into behaving like charged electrons.

Read More: Photons News and Photons Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to