Highly birefringent (Hi-Bi) air-clad silica microfibers (MFs) with wavelength and sub-wavelength scale transverse dimensions are studied theoretically and experimentally. Hi-Bi MFs are taper-drawn from the standard SMF-28 single mode fibers that are "pre-processed" by "cutting away" parts of the silica cladding on opposite sides of the fiber with a femtosecond infrared laser. Such Hi-Bi MFs have approximately elliptical cross-sections and are approximated by a three-layer model comprising a small central Ge-doped region surrounded by an elliptical silica region and an air-cladding. Theoretical modeling shows that phase and group birefringence of the order 10(-2) can be achieved with such air-clad Hi-Bi MFs. Experiments with an air-clad elliptical fiber with a major diameter of 0.9 microm and a minor/major diameter ratio of 0.9 demonstrated a group birefringence of approximately 0.015, agreeing well with the theoretical predictions. The Hi-Bi MFs are useful for micron/nanoscale polarization maintaining transmission and phase-sensitive interferometric sensors.
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