A new device that can shape and steer beams of light at never before achieved speeds has been developed by a group of engineers. The new technology ensures the production of better optical devices such as holographs that can move rapidly in real time.
The acousto-optic array, which consists of 64 tiny piezo-electric elements, act as high frequency loudspeakers. The complex sound field generated deflects and sculpts any light passing through the new device. As the sound field changes, so does the shape of the light beam.
“This means that in the future laser beam-based devices will be able to be re-configured much faster than is currently possible. Previously, the fastest achieved is a few thousand refreshes per second,” said Bruce Drinkwater, Professor of Ultrasonics at the University of Bristol in Britain.
He added, “The reconfigurability can happen extremely fast, limited only by the speed of the sound waves. The key advantage of this method is that it potentially offers very high refresh rates, millions of refreshes per second is now possible. This means that in the future, laser beam-based devices will be able to be reconfigured much faster than is currently possible. Previously, the fastest achieved is a few thousand refreshes per second.”
The capabilities of laser beam shaping and steering are said to be crucial for many optical applications such as optical manipulation and aberration correction in microscopy.
Dr Mike MacDonald at the University of Dundee, explained, “The device can potentially be addressed much more quickly than existing holographic devices, such as spatial light modulators, and will also allow for much higher laser powers to be used. This opens up applications such as beam shaping in laser processing of materials, or even fast and high power control of light beams for free space optical communications using orbital angular momentum to increase signal bandwidth.”
The research was led by Drinkwater and MacDonald has appeared in the journal Optics Express.