Fiber-optic lighting refers to the use of optical fiber, and its ability to transmit light, as a source of light for decorative or practical applications. When optical fibers are used for illumination, they are sometimes wrapped in bundles, thereby giving them the ability to transmit images as well. Fiber-optic lighting utilizes the principle of total internal reflection, transmitting light throughout the length of an optical fiber with negligible dimming or loss of energy.
Optical fiber itself consists of several inner layers, including the core, which transmits the light waves, and the cladding around it. The cladding is made of a material which has a lower refractive index than the core. This means that for light to pass from the core out through the cladding, it would have to slow down. Instead, the light waves take what might be called the path of least resistance by reflecting only in the core through the length of the fiber, to then be visible at the other end. This means that optical fiber can be bent around corners or in a spiral shape and still only emit light at the end of the fiber.
Fiber-optic lighting has a wide variety of uses, from art to medicine. In a health care context, optical cables can be used to guide light onto an area where there is not a clear line of sight, such as in certain surgeries where it is desirable to make as small an incision as possible. This use of fiber-optic lighting has led to decreased recovery times and fewer complications after several different types of operations. It has also been increasingly used as an architectural tool, to transmit sunlight into the interior of a building, with the goal of reducing energy costs.
A construction material known as LiTraCon® was developed in 2001, in part by Hungarian Architect Aron Losonczi. LiTraCon® stands for “light transmitting concrete,” and is made in such a way as to be translucent. Four percent of the weight of this type of concrete is made up of optical fibers which allow light to pass through it, to a limited extent.
Fiber-optic lighting is widely used in decoration, such as in artificial Christmas trees which incorporate lit-up optical fibers. There are even ways to incorporate fiber-optic lighting into works of art. Simple, yet striking chandeliers for homes and businesses can also be made with optical fiber.