What Are Fiber Optics?

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Digital transfer of information along optical fibers is much more efficient than when electrical wires are used. Discover how fiber optics are used to transmit light, and turn it into electrical signals with help from a science teacher in this free video on fiber optics.

Part of the Video Series: Physics & Electromagnetism
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Video Transcript

Hi, I'm Steve Jones and I'm going to explain what fiber optics are. Now the first thing is that you are probably looking at a screen and it's fiber optics which is getting the information to you. The screen itself is not a part of fiber optics but it's the transmission which is. On the board a very simple diagram. This is a piece of glass. It is not a tube, it is a solid piece of glass. And the interesting thing about glass or certain types of glass anyway, they allow light through but they reflect light from the inside. Once it gets in, it can't get out. For example, have a look at a fish tank. When you look in the end of a fish tank and look at the sides, you can see it looks like a mirror, in fact the light can go from one side of the fish tank to the other but it can't come in the sides and out of the end. Just try that one. This is exactly the same effect here that light coming in at the end simply hits the side, the inside of the glass and it is reflected off the surface and bounces down the fiber in this way each time bouncing off until it emerges at the other end. So it is a guide for light. You get several reflections here along the side of the tube. Of course can you imagine what a window would be like if it were a meter thick? It wouldn't be very transparent. These, this type of glass and the type of materials we use to make these fibers, fiber options are very, very, very transparent and therefore the light can travel many kilometers without being reduced in brilliance. The other thing about this fiber is it looks quite big on this board but it is less than the thickness of a human hair, much less than the thickness of a human hair. So it is very, very small. In fact, we can transmit amongst this, through a single fiber something like 16 to 20 telephone calls at once. Now this is a very complex thing and it's done digitally but digital transfer of information along optical fibers now is much more efficient than the old electrical wires. We put in a digital signal, it looks like this, it goes in at this end and it comes out this end looking a little bit like that. But the advantage with digital signals is we know that this was originally like that. And therefore we have, we're able to use a device which will in fact produce us the same again. It will reproduce this from this so you're able to correct the shape of the information as it comes out because you know what it was like when it was put in. So this is why fiber optics is so important. This is why we can use it to transmit light and the light can be turned into electrical signals which we can use in our telephones to transfer your telephone call or to watch your television signals.


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