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A soliton is a self-reinforcing solitary wave caused by nonlinear effects in the medium. Solitons are found in many nonlinear physical phenomena, as they are found as solutions of many different nonlinear differential equations. The soliton phenomenon was first described by John Scott Russell (1808-1882) who observed a solitary wave in the Union Canal, reproduced the phenomenon in a wave tank, and named it the "Wave of Translation".
It is not easy to define precisely what a soliton is. Drazin and Johnson (1989) describe solitons as solutions of nonlinear differential equations which
- represent waves of permanent form;
- are localised, so that they decay or approach a constant at infinity;
- can interact strongly with other solitons and retain their identity.
More formal definitions exist, but they require substantial mathematics. On the other hand, some scientists use the term soliton for phenomena that do not quite have these three properties.
In 1965 N.J. Zabusky of Bell Labs and M.D. Kruskal of Princeton University first demonstrated soliton behaviour in media subject to the Korteweg-de Vries equation in a computational investigation using a Finite difference approach.
In 1973, Akira Hasegawa of AT&T Bell Labs was the first to suggest that solitons could exist in optical fibers. He also proposed the idea of a soliton-based transmission system to increase performance of optical telecommunications.
In 1988, Linn Mollenauer and his team transmitted soliton pulses over 4,000 kilometers using a phenomenon called the Raman effect, named for the Indian scientist Sir C. V. Raman who first described it in the 1920s, to provide optical gain in the fiber.
In 1991, a Bell Labs research team transmitted solitons error-free at 2.5 gigabits over more than 14,000 kilometers, using erbium optical fiber amplifiers (spliced-in segments of optical fiber containing the rare earth element erbium). Pump lasers, coupled to the optical amplifiers, activate the erbium, which energizes the light pulses.
In 1998, Thierry Georges and his team at France TÚlÚcom R&D Center, combining optical solitons of different wavelengths (wavelength division multiplexing), demonstrated a data transmission of 1 terabit per second (1,000,000,000,000 units of information per second).
N. J. Zabusky and M. D. Kruskal (1965). Interaction of 'Solitons' in a Collisionless Plasma and the Recurrence of Initial States. Phys Rev Lett 15, 240
P. G. Drazin and R. S. Johnson (1989). Solitons: an introduction. Cambridge University Press.
- Heriot-Watt University soliton page
- The many faces of solitons
- Klaus Brauer's soliton page
- Solitons and Soliton Collisions
- John Scott Russell and the solitary wave
- Severn Bore web site
- John Scott Russell biography
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