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Spatial light modulator marries optics, electronics

Spatial light modulator marries optics, electronics

Technology News |
By Rich Pell



Spatial light modulators can be used to control various aspects of a light, such as intensity or and phase, pixel by pixel, and are common optical components found in applications such as home theater projectors, laser imaging, and optical computing. Most such devices today rely on mechanical moving parts to achieve this control, which results in bulky and slow optical devices.

Now researchers have created a simple spatial light modulator made from gold electrodes covered by a thin film of electro-optical material that changes its optical properties in response to electric signals. This, say the researchers, is a first step towards more compact, high-speed and precise spatial light modulators that could one day be used in everything from imaging to virtual reality, quantum communications, and sensing.

“This simple spatial light modulator is a bridge between the realms of optics and electronics,” says Cristina Benea-Chelmus, a postdoctoral fellow at SEAS and first author of a paper on the research. “When you interface optics with electronics, you can use the entire backbone of electronics that has been developed to open up new functionalities in optics.”

The researchers used electro-optic materials designed by chemists at the University of Washington. When an electric signal is applied to this material, the refractive index of the material changes. By dividing the material into pixels, the researchers could control the intensity of light in each pixel separately with interlocking electrodes.

With only a small amount of power, the device can dramatically change the intensity of light at each pixel and can efficiently modulate light across the spectrum. The researchers used the new spatial light modulators for image projection and remote sensing by single-pixel imaging.

“We consider our work to mark the beginning of an up-and-coming field of hybrid organic-nanostructured electro-optics with broad applications in imaging, remote control, environmental monitoring, adaptive optics and laser ranging,” says Federico Capasso, Robert L. Wallace Professor of Applied Physics and Vinton Hayes Senior Research Fellow in Electrical Engineering, senior author of the paper.

For more, see “Electro-optic spatial light modulator from an engineered organic layer.”

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