Retarders or waveplates are useful devices for modifying the polarization of light. Until recently these have always been free standing optical elements, usually made using solid uniaxial crystals such as quartz, calcite or magnesium fluoride. Meadowlark Optics has specialized in application of new materials for polarization modification.
Meadowlark Optics first introduced nematic liquid crystal (LC) devices for precision optical applications more than 25 years ago. These devices are variable retarders, sometimes called LCVRs. They provide electrical control of retardance at low voltages, usually 20 volts (2 kHz square wave AC) or less. Figure 1 shows an example of the relationship of retardation to voltage for one of these devices. In many applications they have supplanted their much higher voltage cousin, the Pockels cell.
For many applications involving polarized light, it is important that the azimuthal angle of a polarization optic (i.e. polarizer, retarder, etc…) be accurately aligned to a physical datum or to an eigenaxis of another polarization optic. A simpleopto-mechanical tool for azimuthal alignment can be used to perform accurate alignments and consists of two "rotatable" mounts. One mount holds a polarizer, while the other holds a half-wave retarder. The method of swings is used to aid in the azimuthal alignment of the polarization optic and is illustrated using the Poincaré Sphere. Additionally, imperfections in polarization optics are discussed.
` This application note briefly describes polarized light, retardation and a few of the tools used to manipulate the polarization state of light. Also included are descriptions of basic component combinations that provide common light manipulation tools such as optical isolators, light attenuators, polarization rotators and variable beam splitters.
Beam splitting polarizer cubes consisting of two right angle prisms cemented together after one hypotenuse is coated have become important optical components in many optical systems. Usually the coating stack is of the MacNeille design. We present and compare an alternative coating structure consisting of a very fine wire grid structure on the cube hypotenuse that has performance advantages of improved polarization purity over an extended range of wavelengths and angles. Modern lithography permits wire spacings and dimensions that are small enough for good polarizer performance at visible wavelengths as well as near infrared wavelengths.
While the liquid crystal industry is primarily driven by the display industry, increasingly important applications in science and engineering have emerged such as beam steering, wavefront modulation and polarization switching and control. We will discuss some of the differences in construction techniques needed to produce a precision optical device rather than a flat panel display along with development work being carried out at Meadowlark Optics in some of the above areas. These include polarization switches capable of greater than 5000:1 contrast and high efficiency beam steering for precision interferometer gauges.
A new technology for performing high-precision Stokes polarimetry is presented. One traditional Stokes polarimetry configuration relies on mechanical devices such as rapidly rotating waveplates that are undesirable in vibration-sensitive optics experiments. Another traditional technique requires division of a light signal into four components that are measured individually; this technique is limited to applications in which signal levels are sufficient that intensity reduction does not diminish the signal-to-noise ratio.
This application note details factors that effect the response time for Nematic Liquid Crystal optics. The response time of a liquid-crystal variable retarder depends on several factors, including the LC layer thickness, viscosity, temperature and surface treatment as well as the driving waveform. The response time is also sensitive to the direction of the retardance change as well as the absolute value of the LC retardance.
The immediate purpose of a polarimeter such as the LCPM-3000 liquid crystal polarimeter from Meadowlark Optics is to measure the vector components that combine to describe the polarization state of light. A polarimeter can also be used as a precision diagnostic tool; not only is it useful for characterizing light signals and sources, it is also effective at precisely characterizing optical components through their effect on the polarization state of light.
Error sources that afflict true zero order, compound zero order and multi-order linear retarders include variations in temperature, angle of incidence, wavelength, and the presence of multiple reflections. This application note contains technical information designed to aid the user in producing the highest quality results and in making the best purchasing choice among retarder types for the intended application.
Since the human eye is insensitive to polarization, there is a large amount of information in many situations, which is not readily utilized. Measuring the polarization state of light is useful in many research fields including biology, chemistry, astronomy and remote sensing. The first portion of the paper discusses the simple application of accurately measuring the retardance value and fast axis position of an unknown waveplate. We will mention some of the many polarimetry applications especially in the context of non-mechanical, liquid crystal based polarimeter experimental technique. Some of these examples are from biology showing tissue birefringence changes, astronomy for solar imaging, polarimetric visualization and landmine detection.
New devices and approaches are being developed for controlling beam direction and shape using liquid crystal based assemblies. This paper discusses recent advancements in these areas including improvements in zero-order diffraction efficiency, broadband wide field-of-regard steering, wavefront correction using in-line configurations and high average power handling.
Liquid crystal spatial light modulators are emerging as a potential replacement to traditional optical beam steering methods. The performance of these devices for optical communication systems in the radiation environment for geostationary orbits (GEO) are of interest for applications in the next generation of satellites.
A space platform for optical communications could benefit from nonmenchanical beam steering in which no inertia is used to redirect the laser communications link. This benefit is to come in the form of compact, low-power, lightweight optical phased arrays that provide greater flexibility in their steering capability.
By superimposing a tunable binary phase grating with a conventional computer-generated hologram, the total power of multiple holographic 3D spots can be easily controlled by changing the phase depth of grating with high accuracy to a random power value for real-time optical manipulation without extra power loss.