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Light amplifier

the basis of optical communications South West,

David Payne sits in a darkened room next to a laser.
Professor David Payne with optical fibres. Courtesy of the University of Southampton

A doped fibre amplifier can be used to boost fibreoptic signals across vast distances. The device consists of a fibre that amplifies a light signal directly without converting into an electrical signal.

The fibres amplify the signal when excited by a laser because they are doped with rare-earth elements, such as erbium and ytterbium. The most important, and most common, type is the erbium-doped fibre amplifier (EDFA), containing traces of the element erbium in the form of ions (charged atoms).

The EDFA was developed at the University of Southampton by David Payne (born 1944) and Robert Mears (born 1961) in the mid 1980s. Along with Emmanuel Desurvire of Bell Laboratories, they demonstrated optical amplifiers that were built into the fibreoptic cable itself.

The all-optic system can carry 100 times more information than a cable that uses electronic amplifiers. This crucial development has formed the backbone of the internet. The ability to transmit and amplify such vast amounts of data has made possible the explosive growth of communications in the last 30 years.

Science Museum

South West
University of Southampton
Key Individuals
David Payne, Robert Mears,