A variable optical attenuator was demonstrated by using a thermooptic cutoff modulator in polymers. It combined horizontally and vertically tapered waveguide structures to improve both the attenuation efficiency and the fiber coupling. The rib height of the waveguides in the input and output region was chosen to achieve minimum fiber coupling loss. For the waveguide in the active region with the electrodes, the rib height was reduced and the width was tapered in order to enhance the attenuation performance by weakening the mode confinement. The two waveguides with different rib heights were connected smoothly by employing a vertical taper, which was realized by utilizing two steps of reactive ion etching with a shadow mask. Then a fiber coupler built in a silicon block was attached directly to the output end of the device. A fraction of the main attenuator output was tapped and fed back to the electrical driver to achieve constant output regardless of variations in input light power and polarization. The measured insertion loss of the attenuator was 2.5 dB at 1550 nm. The dynamic range was more than 20 dB with an electrical power consumption of 160 mW. And the optical response time was faster than 1.5 ms. The effect of polarization on the attenuation was reduced to 0.1 dB by employing a continuous electronic feedback control. The wavelength uniformity was as small as 0.3 dB over the range from 1530 to 1560 nm. Finally, the attenuator was successfully used to regulate channel powers within 0.4 dB in a wavelength division multiplexed transmission system.
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