Erbium-Doped Fiber Amplifiers At AT&T Bell Labs: A Paced Odyssey

Josè Chesnoy and Emmanuel DesurvireBy Emmanuel Desurvire
Foreward by Josè Chesnoy
May 21, 2018


Three inventions have made possible the advent of long-haul optical communications: fused-silica fibers, semiconductor lasers, and last but none the least, Erbium Doped Fiber Amplifier (EDFA). The EDFA is one of the most revolutionary discovery in applied physics of the last three decades. It has enabled our present world of long-distance WDM fiber optics, and especially that of submarine cables. The global internet could not exist without EDFA. Few technical breakthrough had such an impact in the life of our generations! [*]

The topic of EDFA being of such a paramount importance, we shall dedicate two articles to their advent in two successive “Back Reflection” issues of SubTel Forum magazine, the first one here concerning the genesis of the EDFA, and the second one about its introduction in our submarine cable world.

To reveal the genesis of EDFA, we have the honor to host Emmanuel Desurvire, co-inventor of the Erbium Doped Fiber Amplifier with Randy Giles and David Payne.

After his Ph.D. in Nice University in 1983, on the subject of Raman fiber amplifiers, Emmanuel Desurvire initiated the EDFA investigation in AT&T Bell Labs. Then he moved to Columbia University, Alcatel, and Thales, where he is now in charge of technology watch and corporate expertise in Thales. Few researchers have been honored by such recognition awards as Emmanuel, citing the major ones: the 1994 Prize of the International Commission for Optics, the 1998 Benjamin Franklin Medal in Engineering (together with D. Payne), the 2005 William Streifer Scientific Achievement Award, the 2007 IEEE/LEOS John Tyndall Award, and the 2007 France-Telecom Prize of the French Académie des Sciences. He is also Laureate of the 2008 Millennium Technology Prize (together with R. Giles and D. Payne), and of the 2011 European Inventor Award. E. Desurvire, also Sc.D. from Nice University (1998) is the author of over 200 publications, five textbooks, holds 39 patents and is also IEEE, Bell Labs and Thales Fellow.

Erbium-Doped Fiber Amplifiers At AT&T Bell Labs: A Paced Odyssey

Several decades past, I can still remember my first interviews at the (hence) legendary AT&T Bell Labs (BL), first at Murray Hill (MH), then Crawford Hill (HOH). The second site looking modest and decrepit in view of MH with its magnificent pyramidal entrance and hall of fame. Big scale, or small scale?… My choice was rapidly made. I wanted Ivan Kaminow for my Dept. Head. Like Ivan the telecom veteran, his boss the young, enthusiastic Lab. Head[i] Paul Henry, had made a big impression on me. Deal!… Three months later, I had driven all the way through the US from California to New Jersey, got my badge, my office, an empty laboratory space, and could not believe my luck!…  This was in June 1986.

Ph.D. credentials gained at Thomson-CSF (France), from my know-how about a weird topic regarding “Raman amplification in single-mode fibers” to a Post-Doc at Stanford’s Ginzton Labs, where I demonstrated & patented the very first optically-amplified recirculating loop [1], made me a natural resident alien in the HOH place. Unlike supervised post-docs, full-hire people joined here to try things at their own risks, preferably a few topics at the same time to keep themselves on the lucky side.  At HOH, my main mission was made clear from the inception: achieving transparent and up-scalable LAN (so-called “star networks”), by means of optical amplification to compensate for 1:N splitting loss.  By then, only semiconductor optical amplifiers (SOA) has gained credibility, despite issues of fiber-coupling/insertion loss, packaging, excess noise, polarization sensitivity and FDM[i] crosstalk (at HOH, coherent heterodyne FDM for addressable LAN bandwidth was THE big thing of the moment)

To continue reading the rest of this article, please read it in Issue 100 of the SubTel Forum magazine here on page 48.