Fluorozirconate glasses, such as ZBLAN (ZrF4-BaF2-LaF3-AlF3-NaF), have the potential for optical transmission from 0.3 μm in the UV to 7 μm in the IR region. However, crystallites formed during the fiber drawing process prevent this glass from achieving its low loss-capability. Other researchers have shown that microgravity processing leads to suppressed crystal growth in ZBLAN glass, which can lead to lower transmission loss in the desired mid-IR range. However, the mechanism governing crystal growth suppression has not been thoroughly investigated. In the present research multiple ZBLAN samples were subjected to a heating and quenching test apparatus on a parabolic aircraft under controlled μ-g and hyper-g environments and compared with 1-g ground tests. Optical microscopy (transmission and polarized) along with SEM examination elucidates that crystal growth in ZBLAN is suppressed when processed in a microgravity environment. Hence crystallization occurs at a higher temperature in μ-g and the working temperature range at which the fiber can be manufactured has been extended. We postulate that the fundamental process of nano-scale mass transfer (lack of buoyancy driven convection) in the viscous glass is the mechanism responsible for crystal growth suppression in microgravity. Suppressing molecular mobility within the semi-molten glass starves nucleating crystallites and prevents any further growth. A COMSOL Multi-Physics model was developed to show the velocity contours due to convection processes in a 1-g, μ-g, and hyper-g environment. Analytical models show that while suppressing convection is relevant at fiber drawing temperatures (360°C), mass transfer due to diffusion dominates at higher temperatures leading to crystal growth at temperatures \u2265400°C. ZBLAN fibers are also known for their poor handling ability. Therefore an analysis of the thermal degradation of ZBLAN optical fibers based on fracture mechanics was also conducted. Conditions of crack initiation and stable versus unstable crack growth leading to fiber fracture were analyzed to explain behavior observed from controlled flexure tests of ZBLAN optical fibers exposed to various temperatures.
ZBLAN, Gravity, Microgravity, Crystallization, Fiber, Infrared
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Torres, Anthony. "Understanding the Role of Gravity in the Crystallization Suppression of ZBLAN Glass." (2013). https://digitalrepository.unm.edu/ce_etds/13