The science of fiber optics has its advantages and disadvantages. Though there are more advantages than disadvantages, they still are there. One of the largest disadvantages is the overall price of manufacturing and installation of the fiber optic system. Not only is a large amount of glass wire needed for one of these systems, but expensive transmitters and receivers are needed to move the data it carries. Setting up the wires and splicing them also comes at a large expense and also with a great degree of difficulty.
Fibers are widely used in illumination applications. They are used as light guides in medical and other applications where bright light needs to be shone on a target without a clear line-of-sight path. In some buildings, optical fibers route sunlight from the roof to other parts of the building (see nonimaging optics). Optical fiber illumination is also used for decorative applications, including signs, art, toys and artificial Christmas trees. Swarovski boutiques use optical fibers to illuminate their crystal showcases from many different angles while only employing one light source. Optical fiber is an intrinsic part of the light-transmitting concrete building product, LiTraCon.
Optical fiber is also used in imaging optics. A coherent bundle of fibers is used, sometimes along with lenses, for a long, thin imaging device called an endoscope, which is used to view objects through a small hole. Medical endoscopes are used for minimally invasive exploratory or surgical procedures. Industrial endoscopes (see fiberscope or borescope) are used for inspecting anything hard to reach, such as jet engine interiors. Many microscopes use fiber-optic light sources to provide intense illumination of samples being studied.
In spectroscopy, optical fiber bundles transmit light from a spectrometer to a substance that cannot be placed inside the spectrometer itself, in order to analyze its composition. A spectrometer analyzes substances by bouncing light off of and through them. By using fibers, a spectrometer can be used to study objects remotely.
An optical fiber doped with certain rare earth elements such as erbium can be used as the gain medium of a laser or optical amplifier. Rare-earth doped optical fibers can be used to provide signal amplification by splicing a short section of doped fiber into a regular (undoped) optical fiber line. The doped fiber is optically pumped with a second laser wavelength that is coupled into the line in addition to the signal wave. Both wavelengths of light are transmitted through the doped fiber, which transfers energy from the second pump wavelength to the signal wave. The process that causes the amplification is stimulated emission.
Optical fibers doped with a wavelength shifter collect scintillation light in physics experiments.
Optical fiber can be used to supply a low level of power (around one watt) to electronics situated in a difficult electrical environment. Examples of this are electronics in high-powered antenna elements and measurement devices used in high voltage transmission equipment.
The iron sights for handguns, rifles, and shotguns may use short pieces of optical fiber for contrast enhancement.
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