Raising awareness on sustainable development by employing light-based solutions: interview with Dr. Mukul Chandra Paul

08 September 2015

In December 2013, the UN General Assembly declared 2015 as the International Year of the Light and Light-based Technologies. The aim of such initiative is to raise global awareness on technologies that promote sustainable development and solutions to current challenges in various industries including health, energy, agriculture and education.

Just think about the role that light has had in some of the major technology-based revolutions of the past century, such as fiber-optic communications that enable the internet or applications in medical imagery.

This special International Year is bringing together important stakeholders with a key role in light-based research and applications including scientific societies and unions, institutions, technology labs and private-sector companies collaborating altogether to further developements and commercial applications in this particular field.

On our end, we recently interviewed our book editor Dr. Mukul Chandra Paul, currently editing the upcoming book titled "Fiber Laser". Dr. Paul is the Principal Scientist at CSIR - Central Glass and Ceramic Institute. Among other, we asked him about his own research efforts when it comes to light-based technologies, what he thinks about the UN's initiative and examples of applications that have been commercialized and do in fact provide a sustainable solution in a particular industry.

IntechOpen: Dr. Paul, can you tell us in short something about your academic background and current research interests?

Dr. Paul: I have received my MSc (Inorganic Chemistry) from the University of Burdwan, West Bengal, India, in 1989 and obtained my PhD under CSIR Fellowship in 2003 from Jadavpur University, West Bengal, India. I pursued my PhD work at the Fiber Optics and Photonics Division, Central Glass and Ceramic Research Institute, Jadavpur, Kolkata, India, and currently I am ina position of principal scientist there. My current research interests involve the development of different specialty optical fibers based on modified silica glass host, which include suitable crystalline host-based rare earth–doped photosensitive fibers for making FBG-based sensors and DFB fiber lasers. Another area of my research work focused on the development of advanced rare earth with metal-doped nanoengineering host-based optical fibers for high-power femtosecond pulse fiber laser, optical amplifier, and broadband super continuum generation.

I received an award aimed to young scientists under UK-India networking research program, in 2003; BOYSCAST Fellowship Award from the Department of Science and Technology (DST) for postdoctorate research work at LPMC, NICE, France, in 2005; MOSTI award for R&D Collaborative research work under Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI), Federal Government Administrative Centre, Malaysia, in 2010; CSIR Technology Award in 2012 as a group member and DST-UKIERI Award in 2013. I am a member of OSA, ACS, and IEEE and life member of MRSI and ICS. I am also an editorial board member of the New Journal of Glass and Ceramics (NJGC), the International Journal of Advanced Nanomaterials, the International Journal of Materials Science Research, and the Journal of Materials Science and Engineering Progress. I have published more than 150 papers in peer-reviewed journals and conferences and seven book chapters holding seven US patents, and I have filed four Indian patents. I was also involved in several collaborative projects with different countries such as UK, Mexico, Malaysia, Russia.

IntechOpen: What is it that motivated you to pursue these particular research interests?

Dr. Paul: Anybody in this world is driven by motivations at every step within the whole life circle, which depend on his or her own ambitions. My ambitions were to be a part of the research society and to harness the resources available in my research field of interest, which attracted me to choose the area of specialty optical fiber as my research career. The following matters motivated me to pursue these particular research interests.

When I started my research work, I found that the Fiber Optics and Photonics Division CSIR-CGCRI is equipped with state-of-the-art instruments/equipments for the manufacture and characterization of specialty fibers and staffed with highly skilled researchers and technicians. It is the only lab in India where such kind of R&D work is conducted to meet the growing demand of optical components and devices based on specialty optical fiber in our country.

I found that such research area toward the development of specialty optical fibers requires proper material engineering for the optimization as well as choice of suitable composition of the doping host of rare earths and metals to improve their amplification, lasing, nonlinear property, photosensitivity, etc., which involved the expertise mostly related to material science as well as inorganic chemistry. As a result, such kind of research area perfectly matched with my research interest wherein I was able to apply my scientific knowledge and material science-based expertise into such kind of research area, which fully satisfied my research motivation.

IntechOpen: You are currently editing the book "Fiber Laser" for IntechOpen. What are the advantages and applications of these within various industries?

Dr. Paul: Yes, I am currently editing the book Fiber Laser for IntechOpen due to the following reasons:

Fiber laser is an advanced field of modern science entering all branches of science. This field continues to vastly expand with state-of-the-art developments across the entire spectrum of scientific, military, medical, industrial, and commercial applications, ranging from spectroscopy to material cutting, welding, and marking. The recent explosive development and applications of the physics and technology of fiber lasers greatly stimulate new advanced research areas, including the generation of ultra-short and high-energy pulses.

There are a lot advantages of fiber laser over other lasers, such as ease of cooling in long fiber during high-power operation, high stability of output power, high reliability for long time operation, lower total cost, low amplitude noise, turnkey operation in complete module, and high immunization to tough environmental changes.

At present, one of the important areas of fiber laser is marking for every industry, such as electronics, medical, pharmaceutical, and automotive industries. Almost every industry requires traceability for an increasing number of manufactured products and components, and laser marking has solved many of these requirements due to the inherent flexibility, speed, reliability, and ease of use of laser systems when compared to conventional marking techniques. As a result, fiber lasers are used to mark, etch, and process products in every industry. Fiber lasers are used for marking with high contrast labels to engrave lot number, date, codes, barcodes, product names, and company logo, etc., on components based on plastic, ceramic, and glass. Fiber laser markers are being used for tracking and traceability of devices used in medical and surgical device manufacturing. Various laser markers are being used in the food, packaging, and cosmetics industries. At present, both fixed and variable pulse length nanosecond lasers have been used extensively for laser marking. Such kind of fiber laser is penetrating significantly in the world market due to its simplicity, ruggedness, and cost-effectiveness of fixed pulse length fiber lasers.

Holmium, erbium, and thulium-doped fiber lasers are being used for various nonindustrial laser applications such as laser surgery largely due to the high absorption of this wavelength by H2O. At present, thulium fiber lasers, having an output power >100 W and emitting longer wavelength beams, have now been used for melting processes specifically polymer welding due to their higher volumetric absorption in unfilled polymers.

Fiber lasers have already firmly established themselves within the industrial production sector in a large number of laser material processing applications. They offer excellent single-mode or multimode beam qualities, which can be precisely adapted to the processing task and therefore represent a universal tool for industrial production. Nowadays, fiber lasers are universal processing tools for industrial production. They show a wider range of applicability than all other lasers because of their wide range of power and beam qualities and due to their flexible beam switching, beam splitting, and scanning possibilities. Furthermore, their efficiency, wavelength, and minimum maintenance requirements allow highly economical processes in a large variety of industries.

IntechOpen: As a scientific book editor, does the research you review impact your own current projects? Does it influence the direction of your research focus?

Dr. Paul: As a scientific book editor, I have reviewed more than 50 articles in the area of fiber laser and optical amplifier, which have a strong impact on my own current projects related to the development of different specialty optical fibers through the optimization of the core material composition to improve their lasing, amplification, and sensing properties with respect to different applications. I have gathered my knowledge under such reviewing process, which influenced the direction of my research focus with increasing scientific thinking power.

IntechOpen: The year 2015 has been proclaimed as the International Year of Light and Light-Based Technologies by the UN who stated that "(we) recognized the importance of raising global awareness about how light-based technologies promote sustainable development and provide solutions to global challenges in energy, education, agriculture and health." What do you think of this initiative?

Dr. Paul: My views about the said initiative are as follows:

The International Year of Light and Light-Based Technologies, 2015 (IYL 2015) is a United Nations observance that aims to raise awareness of the achievements and applications of light science and its importance to humankind. Such kind of initiative for the declaration of the year 2015 as the International Year of Light and Light-Based Technologies (IYL) by the UN is highly reasonable as the applications of light science and technology are vital for existing and future advances in medicine, energy, information and communications, fiber optics, astronomy, architecture, archaeology, entertainment, and culture to bring together stakeholders such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), professional societies, educational and research institutions, nonprofit organizations, and private sector partners. Hence, IYL 2015 will be helpful to create a forum for scientists, engineers, artists, poets, and all others inspired by light to interact both with one another and with the public so as to learn more about the nature of light, its many applications, and its role in history and culture.

The main emphasis during the IYL is lighting. It is an important effort as we are facing more and more lighting in big cities of developed countries generating unintentional environmental pollution with light where over 25% of humanity is living totally out of the reach of electrical grid. The lack of infrastructural lighting is one of the major issues for developed civilization in many regions of the world from the viewpoint of governmental and nongovernmental efforts. I expect IYL 2015 will draw public opinion worldwide on the lighting of significant parts of the world, which is not possible for many reasons-political, economic, organizational, social, and others. The lack of lighting deepens the distance to civilization, inhibits education, deteriorates health, and prevents reasonable development and access to health services. I think that IYL 2015 will draw attention to the activities of present organizations such as Global Off-Grid Lighting Association (GOGLA), Light Up the World (LUTW), and others to increase attention about the substantial lack of light of more than 1.5 billion people globally. It will also be helpful for those people who use poisonous chemical lamps and candles. Such initiative will try to do every effort to organize more lighting for areas outside the power grid, like efficient LED lighting powered by batteries and charged during the day from photovoltaic panels.

Light plays an important role in a modern human's life. We cannot think our human life environment without light. At present, light-based technology called photonics will decide about the development of our civilization as over 44% of the energy of the electromagnetic radiation of the sun reaching the Earth is in the visible spectrum (400-700 nm). Nowadays, photonics is an important light-based technology that is constantly increasing in several fields such as energy, education, agriculture, and health. I hope that the celebration of 2015 as IYL 2015 will increase the social consciousness about the role of light and photonics in building of our civilization, serving as a needed component of the development process of the society for the introduction of new technologies, such as completely new forms of lighting, new diagnostic and therapeutic processes, new sources of energy, etc., to meet with social acceptance as lighting represents almost 20% of global electricity consumption according to the International Energy Agency. The future development of society in both developed countries and emerging economies around the world should intimately tie up with the ability to effectively light our cities, workplaces, homes, schools, and recreation areas through the celebration of IYL 2015. On the other hand, if we are concerned with the worldwide development of cities, it is essential to employ new and innovative lighting design techniques and technologies that improve energy efficiency cost and control those that can easily be adapted to local needs. As part of the international campaign, UNESCO will also host an exhibition and a conference on September 14, 2015, titled "The Islamic Golden Age of Science for the Knowledge-Based Society." In line with the event, three organizations from Hyderabad, that is, MS Academy, Mesco, and ILM Foundation, launched i Quiz 2015-a national-level quiz competition on the "Golden Age of Science." Such kind of competition will be held across 64 cities in India, and the grand finale will be held in Hyderabad.

IntechOpen: Do these kinds of global awareness-raising initiatives help in terms of sponsoring new research efforts in fields such as yours, which is closely related to the initiative's scope?

Dr. Paul: Yes, such kind of global awareness-raising initiatives will help in terms of sponsoring new research efforts in my research fields through organization of the International Workshop on Emerging Areas in Photonics and Future Applications (IWPFA-2015) under IYL 2015 on December 7-12, 2015, at the CSIR-Central Glass and Ceramic Research Institute, Kolkata, India, from the viewpoint of direct interactions with national and international eminent speakers focusing on various aspects of specialty optical fibers, photonic crystal fibers, optical materials, guided wave optics, optical fiber sensors, nanoplasmonics, and metamaterials looking at future emerging applications. This will serve as a forum for training of PhD students/young researchers as well as technologists/engineers engaged in the field of photonics and expose them to new knowledge and ideas with the aim of fostering collaboration between scientists, experts, and researchers.

IntechOpen: Can you give us an example of applications that have been commercialized and do in fact provide a sustainable solution in a particular industry?

Dr. Paul: The following products have been commercialized as team members of the R&D project under CSIR:

Completely packaged commercial-grade C-band erbium-doped fiber amplifier (EDFA) commercialized for the cable TV (CATV) network application under CSIR 10th Plan Programme with industrial partner NeST Photonics, Cochin, India

EDFA provide a sustainable solution in NeST Photonics, Cochin, India, as it is one of the key components for both community antenna television (CATV) signal broadcasting and fiber to the home (FTTH) technology through the continuous improvement of fiber amplification property, which has a huge demand in India and also abroad. As network operators migrate to a converged infrastructure, they face the additional impacts of deepening economic recession, tight capital markets, frugal customers, and need to leverage all assets. Meanwhile, bandwidth requirements continue to ratchet upward to fuel our changing work habits (videoconferencing, teleworking, etc.) and social activities (HDTV, movies on demand, social networks, etc.). Such kind of developed EDFA module will simultaneously fulfill the signal boosting and bandwidth requirement in CATV and FTTH technologies.

Completely packaged all-fiber supercontinuum light source for optical coherence tomography (OCT) and confocal fluorescence microscopy applications under CSIR 11th Plan Programme with industrial partner, M/s. Vinvish Technologies, Trivandrum, India

The product developed through this innovation will have economic impact in our country's growth. Unlike the normal wideband sources like tungsten, xenon, halogen lamp, and SLED with limited power and spectral width, the developed sources' wavelength span ranges from 350 nm to over 2450 nm, with higher spectral power density of the order of 0.1 mW/nm to 1.0 mW/nm with properties of near coherence and directionality. The developed SC source with NPCF is reliable, affordable, and relatively simple to operate. This SC source provides an effective all-in-one solution in which the wavelength is changed simply by inserting an appropriate filter. Applications are found in microscopy, medical imaging, and spectroscopy, enabling experiments or analyses that would otherwise be impossible or prohibitively expensive. As such, there is a large and rapidly expanding market. Due to vast area of applications of such kind of broadband sources, there will be a huge demand for different users in the country. In India and abroad, there is a tremendous market due to the wide range of applications. The vast majority of uses for supercontinuum are currently in academic and commercial R&D organizations.

IntechOpen: What is it about your work that you appreciate the most on a daily basis?

Dr. Paul: Scientific innovation thinking in the area of my research work through exchange of ideas with students as well as gathering of knowledge from the reading of updated articles from the Internet.

IntechOpen: Are there any upcoming projects you are working on that you would like us to mention?

Dr. Paul: I am mentioning the following upcoming projects:

  1. Design and development of photonic crystal clad- and double-clad-based Er and Er/Yb fibers, and application demonstration of high-power optical amplifier
  2. Studies of multicomponent hafnium-silica glass ceramic–based optical fibers doped with rare earths and metal nanoparticles for broadband light sources for 2 to 3 µm spectral range
  3. Development of fiber optic based hydrophone for sensor applications
  4. Development of new class of multimaterial glass-based photosensitive fiber and regenerated fiber Bragg grating sensors for operation at high temperature beyond 1000°C.

We would like to thank Dr. Paul for his time and this interview.

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