Index-matching material

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In optics and fiber optics, an index-matching material is a substance, usually a liquid, cement (adhesive), or gel, which has an index of refraction that closely approximates that of an optical element or fiber, and is used to reduce Fresnel reflection at the surface of the element.

In fiber optics and telecommunications, an index-matching material may be used in conjunction with pairs of mated connectors or with mechanical splices to reduce signal reflected in the guided mode (known as return loss) (see: Optical fiber connector). Without the use of an index-matching material, Fresnel reflections will occur at the smooth end faces of a fiber unless there is no fiber-air interface or other significant mismatch in refractive index. These reflections may be as high as -14 dB (i.e., 14 dB below the optical power of the incident signal). When the reflected signal returns to the transmitting end, it may be reflected again and return to the receiving end at a level that is (28 plus twice the fiber loss) dB below the direct signal. The reflected signal will also be delayed by twice the delay time introduced by the fiber. The twice-reflected, delayed signal superimposed on the direct signal may noticeably degrade an analog baseband intensity-modulated video signal. Conversely, for digital transmission, the reflected signal will often have no practical effect on the detected signal seen at the decision point of the digital optical receiver except in marginal cases where bit-error ratio is significant. However, certain digital transmitters such as those employing a Distributed Feedback Laser may be affected by back reflection and then fall outside specifications such as Side Mode Suppression Ratio, potentially degrading system bit error ratio, so networking standards intended for DFB lasers may specify a back-reflection tolerance such as -10dB for transmitters so that they remain within specification even without index matching. This back-reflection tolerance might be achieved using an optical isolator or by way of reduced coupling efficiency.

For some applications, instead of standard polished connectors (e.g. FC/PC), angle polished connectors (e.g. FC/APC) may be used, whereby the non-perpendicular polish angle greatly reduces the ratio of reflected signal launched into the guided mode even in the case of a fiber-air interface.


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