Fourth Generation Optics: Thin-Film Voltage-Controlled Polarization

Michael Benker
ECE591 Fundamentals of Optics & Photonics
April 20,2020


Dr. Nelson Tabiryan of BEAM Engineering for Advanced Measurements Co. delivered a lecture to explain some of the latest advances in the field of optics. The fourth generation of optics, in short includes the use of applied voltages to liquid crystal technology to alter the polarization effects of micrometer thin film lenses. Both the theory behind this type of technology as well as the fabrication process were discussed.


First Three Generations of Optics

A summary of the four generation of optics is of value to understanding the advancements of the current age. Optics is understood by many as one of the oldest branches of science. Categorized by applications of phenomena observable by the human eye, geometrical optics or refractive optics uses shape and refractive index to direct and control light.

The second generation of optics included the use of graded index optical components and metasurfaces. This solved the issue of needing to use exceedingly bulky components although it would be limited to narrowband applications. One application is the use of graded index optical fibers, which could allow for a selected frequency to reflect through the fiber, while other frequencies will pass through.

Anisotropic materials gave rise to the third generation of optics, which produced technologies that made use of birefringence modulation. Applications included liquid crystal displays, electro-optic modulators and other technologies that could control material properties to alter behavior of light.


Fourth Generation Optics

To advance technology related to optics, there are several key features needed for output performance. A modernized optics should be broadband, allowing many frequencies of light to pass. It should be highly efficient, micrometer thin and it should also be switchable. This technology is currently present.

Molecule alignment in liquid crystalline materials is essential to the theory of fourth generation optics. Polarization characteristics of the lens is determined by molecule alignment. As such, one can build a crystal or lens that has twice the refractive index for light which is polarized in one direction. This device is termed the half wave plate, which polarizes light waves parallel and perpendicular to the optical axis of the crystal. Essentially, for one direction of polarization, a full period sinusoid wave is transmitted through the half wave plate, but with a reversed sign exit angle, while the other direction of polarization is allowed only half a period is allowed through. As a result of the ability to differentiate a sign of the input angle to the polarization axis (full sinusoid polarized wave), the result is an ability to alter the output polarization and direction of the outgoing wave as a function of the circular direction of polarization of the incident wave.

The arrangement of molecules on these micrometer-thin lenses are not only able to alter the direction according to polarization, but also able to allow the lens to act as a converging lens or diverging lens. The output wave, a result of the arrangement of molecules in the liquid crystal lens has practically an endless number of uses and can align itself to behave as any graded index lens one might imagine. An applied voltage controls the molecular alignment.

How does the lens choose which molecular alignment to use when switching the lens? The answer is that, during the fabrication process, all molecular alignments are prepared that the user plans on employing or switching to at some point. These are termed diffraction wave plates.



Problem 1.


The second lens is equivalent to the first (left) lens, rotated 180 degrees. In the case of a polarization-controlled birefringence application, one would expect lens 2 to exhibit opposite output direction for the same input wave polarization as lens 1. For lens 1 (left), clockwise circularly polarized light will exit with an angle towards the right, while counterclockwise circularly polarized light exits and an angle to the left. This is reversed for lens 2.



Problem 2.


There are as many states as there are diffractive waveplates. If there are six waveplates, then there will be 6 states to choose from.


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