We have a tendency today to get caught up in things that are shiny, new, and exotic. It's hard to open a technology magazine without seeing a story about graphene, or artificial intelligence, or quantum entanglement, etc. And while the fantastic drives our imagination with what's possible, it's always important to remember that there is equally important work making existing things better and more practical. The more seasoned readers will recollect the heyday of infrared (IR) glasses, most notably fluorides and chalcogenides, in the 1990s associated with their potential for sub-silica ultra-low-loss transmission fibers or as gain elements for 1.3 micron fiber amplifiers. While they never lived up to the potential, a great deal of important fundamental work was done to reduce losses, make better fibers, and bring them together into all the necessary system components such as splitters and couplers. Thirty years later, there has been a renaissance in IR fibers, particularly due to advances in IR fiber lasers, thermal imaging, and astronomy. The work by Benderov et al. represents one of these highly useful efforts that brings together this collective knowledge and distributed advancements. In that work, one of the most well-studied glass systems, As2
, is carefully purified and fiberized and then fused and tapered to create a very broadband all-fiber coupler operating in what has become an important IR spectral region. In addition to the very good properties of this broadband IR coupler, the paper teaches how awareness of past successes across multiple topics, coupled with patience and attention-to-detail, can yield important advancements. Maybe such a thought process is the best route to important advances!
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