Can glass reveal Santa’s secret?

The secret of Santa Claus

It’s Christmas Eve. The tree is decorated, dinner is over, and milk and cookies are on the table. The fire is down to its last embers, and after everyone has brushed their teeth peace descends upon the house. However, in a second-floor bedroom a child’s heart is beating loudly.

Anyone who grew up believing in Santa Claus probably remembers holding their breath at night to try and hear Santa coming down the chimney. The brave ones might have even snuck out of bed and lurked in the hallway until their feet went cold and their eyes tired – or their parents caught them. On Christmas morning, we all stormed to the tree to find presents and an empty glass of milk, without ever seeing Santa.

After unpacking the gifts, all that remains are questions and plans for next year. We might ask how we could look around corners to see what is going on inside the chimney without revealing ourselves. We might play with the idea of setting up our new camera in the fireplace, but then remember it is still hot in the evening and we do not want to risk damaging our present. Frustrated, we wish there was a telescope that could be pushed into the fireplace, but have no idea that something similar actually exists.

These magical, flexible and long “extendable eyes” are called image guides. They consist of thousands of bundled glass optical fibers that transport images from one end of the bundle to the other without the need for electricity. With an image guide it would be no problem to reveal Santa’s secret because optical fibers can look around corners even in difficult environments. Glass fibers would also remain unaffected by the high temperatures over the embers. With a long image guide, you could even sit on the couch and monitor what happens in the chimney.

Wound Fiber Bundle
Wound Fiber Bundles are coherent, flexible fiber optic bundles used in applications where images must be transferred from remote locations. Photo: SCHOTT
Small diameter image guides
Small diameter image guides. Photo: SCHOTT

At the end of the day, Santa Claus is one of the few secrets that we don’t really want to reveal. Nevertheless, the same curiosity that kept us awake on Christmas Eve as children is now thrilling us as adults, driving us to solve problems for customers in industrial or medical fields with high-quality glass solutions.

Image guides are particularly suitable when high temperatures, vacuum-tight rooms, magnetic fields or other challenging environmental conditions make it difficult to install cameras and sensors. Long image guides can bridge the distance between measurement and evaluation, and be moved and bent repeatedly. For example, they can be attached to a robotic arm or help surgeons look inside a human body.

Although our fascination with tricky challenges is great, we will leave Christmas Eve to children’s dreams and concentrate on image guides.

December 4, 2020


Brigitte Sterf
Lighting and Imaging
SCHOTT North America, Inc.