A system and method are disclosed for efficient laser illumination of the interiors of multiple capillaries simultaneously, and collection of light emitted from them. Capillaries in a parallel array can form an optical waveguide wherein refraction at the cylindrical surfaces confines side-on illuminating light to the core of each successive capillary in the array. Methods are provided for determining conditions where capillaries will form a waveguide and for assessing and minimizing losses due to reflection. Light can be delivered to the arrayed capillaries through an integrated fiber optic transmitter or through a pair of such transmitters aligned coaxially at opposite sides of the array. Light emitted from materials within the capillaries can be carried to a detection system through optical fibers, each of which collects light from a single capillary, with little cross talk between the capillaries. The collection ends of the optical fibers can be in a parallel array with the same spacing as the capillary array, so that the collection fibers can all be aligned to the capillaries simultaneously. Applicability includes improving the efficiency of many analytical methods that use capillaries, including particularly high-throughput DNA sequencing and diagnostic methods based on capillary electrophoresis.