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Spatial Light Modulators

Dr. Kallol Bhattacharya, University of Calcutta

What is a spatial light modulator?

A device that intercepts an incident light beam to introduce a

controlled magnitude of transmittance or phase (often through
polarization modulation) in the emergent beam.

The transmittance and/or phase introduced may be uniform over

space or space varying, and time varying.
What does a spatial light modulator do?

Spatially uniform but

temporally varying amplitude

Both Spatially and temporally

varying amplitude
transmittance (blinking)

Spatially varying phase

(lensing effects, etc)

Spatio-temporally varying phase

Temporally varying phase
(Laser scanner)
Spatial Light Modulators

Temporal Spatial

Mechanical Magneto-Optic Electro-Optic Acousto-Optic

Silver Halide etc. Photoresists Liquid Crystal

Amplitude Phase positive negative

Electrically addressed Optically addressed

Amplitude Phase
Magneto-Optic Modulators

Faraday Effect (Michael Faraday – 1845) – The plane of polarization

of linearly polarized light incident on a piece of glass rotates when
subjected to a strong magnetic field applied in the direction of light

Verdet constants for some

θ selected substances in min.of
arc gauss-1 cm-1:

Flint glass – 0.0317 (180C)

d Water - 0.0131 (200C)
Quartz - 0.0166 (200C)
θ = VBd

Other effects: Voigt Effect (in vapours); Cotton-Mouton Effect ( in liquids)

Electro-Optic Modulators – Kerr Effect

Kerr Effect – (John Kerr 1824-1907) – An isotropic transparent substance

becomes birefringent when placed in an electric field. The medium then
resembles a uniaxial crystal whose optic axis corresponds to the direction
of the applied field.
The electric field induced birefringence is given by Δn = λ0KE2


Substance K(x 10-5 in

statvolt -2)
Water 4.7
Nitrotoluene 123
Nitrobenzene* 220
Carbon Disulphide 3.2
Chloroform -3.5
* Poisonous & esplosive
Half wave voltage for a phase modulator is defined as the voltage
at which a phase retardation of π is introduced. At this voltage the cell
acts as a half-wave plate.
Retardation Δφ = (2π/λ). Δn = 2 π K l V2 / d2

For a nitrobenzene cell of dimensions 1cm x 1cm, V1/2 ~30 KV

Shutters in high speed photography – frequency response 1010 Hz
As light beam choppers – replacement for mechanical choppers-
utilized in the measurement of speed of light
As Q-switches in pulsed laser systems
Major Disadvantage: High voltage requirement and nonlinear response.
Electro-optic Modulators - Pockels Effect
Pockels Effect (Friedrich Carl Alwin Pockels 1865-1913 ): In certain
crystals lacking inversion symmetry the induced birefringence is
proportional to the first power of the Electric field E, (and hence V) .

x/ fast axis slow axis

x y/

Polarizer Vz QWP Polarizer

1 3
n x  n o  n o r 63 E z
1 3
n y  n o  n o r 63 E z
Field off



Field on

The phase difference between the two components after
traversing a length L of the crystal is φ = (2π / λ )(nx’~ny’) l

i.e., φ = π/2 + ωn03r63Vz / c = π/2 + πVz / Vλ/2

QWP = π/2 + φ/
The intensity of the output beam is ½(e iφ -1)2 = sin2 (φ/2)

T 1

Observe that for Vz=0, φ/=0 but φ =
π/2 and the transmittance T =0.5.
bias This is brought about through the
φ/ use of the suitably oriented QWP.
0 π/2 π
Pockels Phase modulator



Polarizer Vz

1 3
n x  n o  n o r 63 E z
1 3
n y   n o  n o r 63 E z
Electro-optic Deflector using Pockels Effect

At time T after incidence on the crystal face,

nx= n0 + (Δn / d) . x
a ray incident at x=0 traverse time for length l, t1=ln/c
At x = 0, nx=0= n0
a ray incident at x=d ,, ,, t2 = l (n0+ Δn)/c
At x = D, nx=d = n0+ Δn
The difference in transit times to traverse the same
length deflects the wavefront.


l Δn
The difference in transit time = l Δn /c
Angle of deflection = l Δn /D
Implementation using KDP

x/ x/

When the Hypotenuse

faces joined together,
z we have a linear
variation of OPD
y/ along the vertical y/
hi gh
V z=
V z=low
1 3
n x  n o  n o r 63 E z
1 3
n y   n o  n o r 63 E z
Acousto-Optic Modulators Crystal

 The RF voltage source, through the in- electric
contact PZT launches a compressional To RF
wave into the acoustic medium source
 The RF voltage source, through the in-contact PZT launches a compressional wave
into the acoustic medium
 The compressional wave propagates through the medium through local displacement
of molecules (strain) – causing thereby local changes in the refractive index
 For a sinosoidal RF signal, a moving sinosoidal phase grating generates along the
length of the crystal. The perod of the grating is velocity of acoustic wave / RF freq.
 The phase grating interacts with the incident optical wavefront to produce various
diffracted orders
 With a liquid AO medium, the RF frequencies are ~ few 10s MHz, and on incidence of
light the moving grating generates several optical frequencies due to doppler shifts. This
is called the Raman-Nath regime of operation, The guiding equation being d sin θn =n λ

d Absorber

To RF source

AOM in Raman-Nath mode




To RF transducer

AOM in Bragg mode

When the AO medium is a crystal, the AOM works in the Bragg regime
A light beam is symmetrically deflected at the Bragg angle θ satisfying the condition
2d sin θ = nλ
As d can be varied by varing the RF freqency (typically 100s of MHz to Giga Hz
range) diffraction angle changes
More light can be pumped in one of the +1 or -1 orders by tilting the crystal
Silver Halide materials:
Equation of the working region : γ =
Density = log10 1/t

(D+D0)/log E
i.e., D= γlogE –D0

Putting D=log(1/t) and E = I.t ,

Working region γ γ
(Slope tan θ = γ) t= 10Do I ¯ = const. x I ¯
Even if γ =1 a linear relation between
transmittance of the negative film
θ and the recorded intensity cannot be
D0 Log E

Log E

However, if the developed transparency is recorded on a second negative film

and developed to yield a slope γ/ then, following the same logic,

t’= const. x I γ γ’ A linear relation between I and t’ is now possible

Use of a liquid gate:

 The surface of a processed photographic film has relief structures.

 When used as an amplitude transmitting object in coherent optical
systems, the surface irregularities introduces unwanted phase. In
such cases a liquid gate is used .

Liquid cell

Index matching
fluid Silver halide films may be bleached
to give phase transparencies with
Transparency both surface relief and refractive
index variations contributing to the
Spatial Light Modulators

Temporal Spatio-temporal

Mechanical Magneto-Optic Electro-Optic Acousto-Optic

Silver Halide etc. Photoresists Liquid Crystal

Amplitude Phase positive negative

Optically addressed Electrically addressed

Amplitude Phase
Liquid Crystals

An academic curiosity until the 1960s !

 First recognized by Reinitzer (1888) as the fourth state of matter
 Display applications were suggested as early as 1930s but had to wait for
availability of materials exhibiting LC phase at normal temperatures –
without heaters the LC phases crystallized.

Solid Phase Smectic LC phase Nematic LC Liquid Phase

- 3D Order Layered structure phase 1D Order - No Order
2D Order

All LC displays are made from LC phases formed from elongated or rod
shaped polar molecules

In presence of an electric field a dipole moment develops and tends to rotate
the molecule in the direction of the applied field
What makes a LC click as an SLM ?

The elongated structure of its molecules renders light polarization

The ability to change its orientation under the influence an electric
field lends flexibility.

 LC are optically anisotropic, exhibit birefringence and behave

as an uniaxial crystal
 Most liquid crystals have larger refractive index (ne) for
polarizations along the direction of their long axis and a lower
refractive index (no) for all direction normal to it.
Slow axis
 The difference of refractive indices
(ne-no) is often 0.2 or more
Fast axis
The LC (uniaxial) indicatrix
OA The indicatrix is a 3D geometric figure
showing the variation of refractive
ne indices of a crystal for monochromatic
light waves in their direction of
Each radius vector represents a
no vibration direction whose length
no measures the index of refraction of the
crystal for waves vibrating parallel to
the direction.

 For most liquid crystals the indicatrix

is a prolate ellipsoid of revolution
(positive indicatrix).
 The major axis (OA) corresponds to
the long axis of liquid crystal molecules
The wave velocity surfaces for LC


Polarization effects in LCs

What if the molecules are tilted ?


ne no


If the LC molecules align themselves either
 along the direction of the incident beam – no effect
 along the direction of polarization of the incident beam- no effect

If the LC molecules align themselves in a plane making an

angle with the incident beam
– retardation is introduced between the orthogonal
components of the emerging beam. The output polarization is in
general elliptical.
Over the plane of the SLM if the tilt angle varies (effected by
varying the local voltages), - a phase distribution develops over
the emerging beam.

What we have is a phase SLM!

Construction of Electrically addressed LC SLM


Polymide ITO

polarizer Edge seals



Light guide
Direction of output NO transmitted light
TN-LC Voltage
(Twisted- ON
VOLTAGE When the
OFF direction of
propagation of
light is along to
the optic axis of
Direction of input an uniaxial
polarizer crystal, the state
of input
100 remains
900 unaffected !

% Transmittance
Tilt angle


0 0
0 2 4
Individual Electrode addressed displays
Passive matrix displays
Thin Film Transistor (TFT) ot Active Matrix Technology
Time Multiplexing
 Multiplexed addressed TN displays allow upto 32 rows to be
driven. Beyond that electrical power becomes so low that
optical properties suffer
 Scheffer (1985) and Waters (1985) showed that by using
larger twist angles, threshold can be made very sharp and that
a Twist angle of 2400 best suited this purpose and instead of a
1/32 duty cycle, 1/240 duty cycles could be achieved.
 Practically, this was achieved by addition of chiral LC
molecules and orientation of the rubbing direction so as to
introduce the desired tilt.
 STN displays gave colour effects. This was minimized by the
addition of a retardation films located between the polarizers
and the LC cell.
 Used in all mobile phone displays. Too slow for laptops.
Voltage / transmission curve vs. mid-plane tilt angle
for STN displays with various angles of twist.


Bistasbility and
Mid-layer Tilt angle

other unwanted
450 Twist angle effects appear
900 2400 3300
Sharp Threshold

0 2 4
Applied voltage
Adding colour to life

3 subpixels (basic colours 4 subpixels (basic colours + brightness)

Colour integrating effect of the eye
Specialized applications of EASLMS
Phase SLMs using LC

Gordon D. Love et.al., University

An LC Prism (beam deflector) of Durham, UK
Ideally, a phase
difference of
φ = exp[-ik(x2+y2)/2f]
is to be achieved over
the SLM.

Voltage across an LC lens

Bragwell et.al., University of Arizona, 2006

Interferograms (produced by placing the device between crossed
polarizers) from a spherical LC lens, for different values of applied
voltage (rms) and frequency.

LC off LC off LC on

Imaged object defocussed object Re-focussed object

Bragwell et.al., University of Arizona, 2006
LC Wavefront correctors

Each of the addressing leads leading from the bottom of the device makes
contact with the continuous high resistance electrode, through the
dielectric mirror. The impulse function around each lead can be
controlled by altering the applied voltage and frequency. The overall
effect is a superposition of the impulse functions all the electrodes.
Interferogram from the central area of a 16x16 actuator modal LC
wavefront corrector. The applied voltage was 5V rms, at frequencies Gordon D. Love et.al.,
University of Durham,
of 1KHz, 10KHz, and 100KHz, respectively. UK

Matthew Goda, Dept. of Electrical and Computer

Engineering, Air Force Institute of Technology,
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio , et.al –
Laser Focus World -2006
Spatial Light Modulators

Temporal Spatio-temporal

Mechanical Magneto-Optic Electro-Optic Acousto-Optic

Silver Halide etc. Photoresists Liquid Crystal

Amplitude Phase positive negative

Optically addressed Electrically addressed

Amplitude Phase

Optically Addressed LC SLM – Hughes Liquid Crystal Light valve

light Write light

Flat Glass
Alignment Alignment Opaque
Flat Glass layer(CdTe) substrate
layer layer
substrate Transparent
Dielectric electrode
Transparent LC layer mirror Photoconductive
electrode layer (CdS)
Hughes Aircraft Research Laboratories, 1970, PA LC SLM
Slide 45

K1 The photoconductor is CdS

The light blocking layer is CdTe
Alignment layers are oriented 45 deg to each other
The dielectric mirror also stops DC currents to flow through the device to extend its lifetime
An audio frequency AC with rms 5-10V is applied across the electrodes
In absense of write light the RMS volt. should not be sufficient to cause a rotation of the LC molecules. As such impedances of the PC layer and
the diel.mirror layer are high (capactances low) so that most of the applied ac volt drops across these.
In presence of write light the conductivity of pc layer increases, impedence goes ideally to zero and the voltage is applied on the LC cell.
In presen
Kallol, 30/12/2006
Read-out operations of the OASLM


 Contrast ratios of 100:1 achievable

 Write time is ~ 10 msec

 Erase time is 15 msec ON STATE
Applications of OASLMs:
 Conversion of coherent images to incoherent images
 Image amplification – a weak coherent or incoherent
image can be read out with a intense coherent beam
 An optical (amplitude) information in one wavelength
is obtainable in other wavelength
 Fast temporal response useful for real time OIP
Coherent optical processing using OASLM

Correlator using OASLM
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