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Optical Amplifiers 101: Common Questions From Curious Individuals

Throughout history, curious and intelligent individuals worked hard to find ways to amplify light. Controlling and amplifying light is important to so many different processes and activities, so inventors worked hard to come up with tools, equipment, and devices that could do just that. The optical amplifier was born from this basic effort to find an effective way to amplify beams of light so they could be carried further or in alternate directions. Here is a look at some of the things you may want to know about optical amplifiers. 

What exactly is an optical amplifier?

Optical amplifiers are designed to take an optical signal and amplify its strength without having to convert that signal into an electrical form. These devices can amplify a signal without the use of a typical optical cavity, which makes them ideal for use in a range of different applications, but, most importantly, their design allows for the repeat of a signal over a long distance. 

How is the optical amplifier used?

These amplifiers are primarily used in the telecommunications industry, which requires a form of an optical repeater in order to carry a signal over long distances without losing the integrity of the signal. Areas of laser physics also rely on optical amplifiers. "Optical amplifier" is actually an umbrella term that is used to describe a series of mechanisms and devices, such as a doped fiber amplifier or an electron-hole amplifier. Parametric and Raman amplifiers are a few lesser-known examples as well. 

Who invented the optical amplifier?

The very first optical amplifier is said to have been invented by a researcher named Elias Snitzer, which was affiliated with American Optical. The first amplifier was brought about in 1961, but the technology did not find a lot of use until much later when communication efforts began to rely on fiber optics. Over the years, there have been many research efforts that brought about modifications to optical amplifiers, such as the addition of the semiconductor to these amplifiers. 

What is a semiconductor optical amplifier?

A semiconductor optical amplifier is a unique optical-type amplifier that makes use of what is referred to as a gain medium. Instead of the typical mirrors affixed to the end of the laser diode, a semiconductor optical amplifier has mirrors that have coatings equipped that deter reflection. Users often pair these amplifiers with certain waveguides with a degree of tilt, which can also deter the reflection of the laser and give more accurate and precise emission. 

For more information on things such as the inventor of the optical amplifier, reach out to a library or research facility.