Tags: deformable mirror, adaptive optics, boston micromachines, UAV, free-space communication, modulating retroreflector, pulse, pulse width, laser beam, CLEO, laser science, biological imaging, deep tissue microscopy, BMC, laser pulse shaping, ultrafast lasers, two photon, optical chopper, optical modulator, chopper, AOM, acousto-optic modulator, speed, shutter
It's been a few weeks since we returned from the Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics 2013 and now that we're settled back in to the daily routine, I thought I would give some highlights on the show. I was happy to be joined this time by our new Marketing and Communications Specialist, Angelica Perrone, who did a great job navigating the complex photonics market for the first time.
While the conference seems to be chugging along at a nice pace, the tradeshow has most definitely become a smaller venue. We were once again hosted by our strategic partner, Thorlabs (thanks, again guys!) and being in such a central location on the floor, we were able to get a good flavor for the pace of the show. Here are my thoughts:
Little, different, yellow, better
Anybody get that Nuprin reference? Anybody? See what I 'm talking about here.
Okay, so it's not yellow (although yellow lasers are cool), but the show is definitely getting smaller. I mentioned to a colleague that since the show is in San Jose for the second year in the row, it seemed like the barriers on either end of the tradeshow floor had moved in just a bit.
As far as different, the show is not like other photonics shows in that it is pretty focused in its applications. While there were some interesting talks on microscopy, this was a small portion of the material, with most others focussing on more laser-centric applications, as the title of the conference implies.
As far as better, I would say that for BMC, it was most definitely better for our new products: The Reflective Optical Chopper(ROC) and the Linear Array DM. We recieved more interest in these products over our legacy deformable mirror technologies. This is exciting for me as a product marketer and salesperson and even moreso as a member of a company that is always looking for new avenues for our technology. We see the ROC being useful for users who span from pure laser scientists to imaging engineers interested in chopping a beam at high speed with either a constant or variable duty cycle. The linear array has already proven useful in pulse shaping applications as described in our whitepaper, which is available for download here. Both products are available for purchase now.
Our Wavefront Sensorless Adaptive Optics Demonstrator for Beam Shaping (WSAOD-B)also generated some buzz. More and more applications which require wavefront correction are surfacing and need a solution without a wavefront sensor.
In all, it was a good show that has given me and my team work to do as we explore more exotic applications for our technology. I look forward to joining the show again next year and I hope to connect with all of you again in the near future!
For more information on the products mentioned above, please visit our website and download our whitepapers.
Tags: adaptive optics, boston micromachines, product information, response time, free-space communication, modulating retroreflector, pulse, CLEO, BMC, ultrafast lasers, optical chopper, optical modulator, chopper, AOM, acousto-optic modulator, SNR, signal-to-noise, speed, shutter
As Boston Micromachines' newest member, I would first and foremost like to introduce myself. My name is Angelica and I have joined the BMC team as their Marketing and Communications Associate. It has been some time now since our last blog and I thought it would be appropriate to discuss our most recent product; The Reflective Optical Chopper, or ROC.
Optical Choppers, being frequently used for signal recovery in improving signal-to-noise ratio, are used to convert a continuous laser beam into a chopped one. Traditional Optical Choppers offer various pains, such as the need to alter the beam size to fit through wheel spokes, challenging stability at low speeds, the need for costly lock-in amplifier equipment and complex calibration procedures. The innovative, low-cost ROC simply eliminates all of these, outperforming traditional optical choppers.
Drive electronics are paired with BMC’s MEMS Optical Modulator technology to create the ROC. The ROC provides beam chopping at impressive speeds without beam size modification. With a frequency range of DC to 150 kHz with better than 40 µs response time, control increments of .01 Hz and a contrast ratio exceeding 90% up to 100 kHz, the value of the ROC ‘speaks’ for itself. For signal-to-noise ratio improvement, the drive signal can be used as the sync signal, allowing it to be painlessly synchronized.
Many industrial, scientific, medical, aerospace and military applications call for the need of reliable and advanced equipment. The ROC has superior capabilities such as high speed, large frequency range, reliability, stability and usefulness in SNR improvement applications. Basically, the Reflective Optical Chopper is an advance in optical chopping technology which is available at a low price.
In our last blog post (Fast and Precise Laser Pulse Compression with the Linear Array DM) we discussed research being done in the Cui Lab at HHMI’s Janelia Farm Research Campus that used our Linear Array DM for laser pulse compression. In part two we examine a two photon fluorescence microscopy project led by associate Reto Fiolka at Janelia Farm that illustrates the use of the Linear Array’s potential as a pulse compressor for imaging applications using the phase resolved interferometric spectral modulation (PRISM) optimization technique.
The Linear Array pulse compressor setup was used to restore the laser pulse to its transform limited state, thus improving the ability to excite fluorescence by two photon absorption. A sample consisting of 10 micron diameter fluorescence beads (emission: 465 nm) was prepared and spread on a cover-slip. The laser beam first propagated through the pulse compressor and was subsequently focused on the sample using a 20X NA 0.5 Nikon objective. A 2D image was obtained by translating a motorized sample stage. Without spectral pulse shaping, only a weak fluorescence signal could be obtained (See figures a and c). Since the objective adds significant additional dispersion to the laser pulse, the spectral phase correction that had been determined previously using the photodiode could not be used. Therefore PRISM optimization was repeated using the fluorescence signal coming from the beads itself as a feedback signal.
Janelia Farm’s results show a dramatic increase in fluorescence signal for the optimized spectral phase (see figures b and d). The signal strength was increased by a factor of ~6.5
According to Fiolka, “The tested device represents a promising alternative to liquid crystal displays, since the MEMS technology enables high filling factor, high efficiency and operation speed, exceptional phase stability and accuracy and can be used over a very broad wavelength spectrum.”
We're very excited about these results and we are currently working with other groups interested in reproducing these results on tissue samples. Thanks again to Dr. Fiolka and the Janelia Farm group for their efforts in improving two photon imaging techniques!!
More details can be found in our Linear Array white paper which includes an application overview of this exciting project. You can also link to the research directly using the links to the Cui Lab and the scientific publication above.
Ultrafast lasers have been extensively used in ground breaking research including two Nobel Prizes. Applications within spectroscopy, photochemistry, laser processing and microscopy are widespread. However, to capitalize on such short laser pulses, a pulse compressor is required to compensate for the dispersion induced by optical elements. Liquid crystal based spatial light modulators are most commonly used in laser pulse compressors. Although a proven technology in display applications, liquid crystals have drawbacks including phase jitter and a limited fill factor. Researchers at the Cui Lab at HHMI’s Janelia Farm Research Campus looked to Boston Micromachines Corporation’s prototype Linear Array Deformable Mirror (DM) to address these challenges.
To evaluate the performance of the pulse compressor, the laser pulses were analyzed with frequency resolved optical gating (FROG) using a commercial instrument (Grenouille, Swamp Optics, Atlanta, GA). In Figure a and b, the temporal and spectral profile of the pulse is shown when a flat wavefront is displayed on the DM. Evidently, the pulse is distorted and the spectral phase is not flat at all (a flat spectral phase is required for a transform limited pulse). Next, the beam returning from the pulse compressor was focused with a concave mirror onto a GaAsP photodiode and the resulting nonlinear signal was used as a feedback for the correction algorithm. After optimization using a technique called Phase resolved interferometric spectral modulation (PRISM), the temporal profile (Figure c) shows a dramatically shorter, Gaussian shaped pulse. The spectral phase is perfectly flat (Figure d) with less than 0.01 radians phase error and is stable in time. These results suggest that the precision and stability of the Linear Array DM allows close to perfect restoration of transform limited laser pulses. For more information on the optimization technique, you can access a scientific publication here.
In our next blog post, we will discuss the results of the use of the Linear Array DM in an interesting two-photon microscopy experiment.
More details can be found in our Linear Array white paper which includes a more detailed description of this application.
This past summer, Boston Micromachines Corporation conducted a survey of nearly 300 members of the business and scientific community to find out what features were valued in a deformable mirror for adaptive optics and other wavefront correction applications. Respondents came from our three major vertical markets: microscopy, astronomy and laser science. In this survey, we asked some fundamental questions and had respondents choose between three DMs with properties varying in categories of actuator count, stroke, response time and price in various combinations. We were able to drill down to what each respondent valued. Here are some of our key findings:
1) Actuator count was the most valued property
Across all verticals, this was true. Overall, respondents preferred an average of 1000 actuators. While microscopists preferred 140 actuators by almost 2 to 1 over other models, those who identified as laser scientists were looking for an average of 1001 actuators and astronomers preferred, on average, 1800 actuators.
This was very interesting to us considering we are the only player in the market to provide deformable mirrors with these actuator counts as standard products or are developing DM systems which meet these specific needs (we have a 2000 element mirror in the works).
2) High speed is important
The most frequently chosen option for response time amongst laser scientists was 50μs and all other disciplines preferred average response better than 300μs. This is great news for the industry considering that most mirror architectures can respond adequately to meet the needs of the users. Our DM architectures are available with response times up to 22μs and we are able to drive these mirrors with our X-Driver (response time down to 4μs), satisfying high speed requirements as well.
3) Low price is desired
As we hear so often, most users were looking for low-priced devices. This was the second preferred property after actuator count. While those of us in the industry talk about lower prices with higher volumes, the volumes just haven’t been there yet to make this prophecy come true. The hope in the future is that the DMs based on scalable technologies, such as MEMS, will take off and lower-priced devices will be available.
We definitely learned a lot from this survey, above and beyond what is mentioned above. If you have any questions about our methods or are interested in discussing more specifics about the responses, I would be glad to chat further. Just contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Up until recently nearly all adaptive optics (AO) systems used wavefront sensors for correction. But with recent advances, off-the-shelf wavefront sensorless AO is becoming a reality. Benefits of this type of AO include enhanced aberration correction due to the elimination of non-common path errors and wavefront sensor noise.
BMC has developed a Wavefront Sensorless AO Demonstrator (WS-AOD) which provides a platform for utilizing metric-based wavefront control with BMC MEMS deformable mirror (DM) technology. While conventional AO systems perform closed-loop DM control using direct measurements of the wavefront as feedback, the metric-based approach uses details in the aberrated light to improve clarity. Two versions are available; one is optimized for beam shaping applications and the other is designed for imaging applications.
We see laser beam shaping as a key area in this exciting technology and our demonstrator is built to address the unique challenges of this field. Our WS-AOD serves as an introduction to wavefront sensorless adaptive optics principles. It allows users to understand the details involved in properly implementing a metric-based adaptive optics solution on an optical system. The demonstrator can also be used as a stand-alone aberration compensator. By introducing aberrations in the sample stage, the system can be optimized for a multitude of use cases from laser research applications to scanning laser microscopy. Additionally, the user can easily integrate the hardware into an existing optical system and utilize the open source software code for metric-based correction.
Schematic of WS-AOD for beam shaping applications. Also available for imaging applications.
To compensate for phase aberrations the WS-AOD uses BMC’s deformable mirror (DM) technology. BMC’s DM is a continuous facesheet deformable mirror that is controlled by hysteresis-free electrostatic actuators located on a square grid. The full DM active aperture can be as little as 1.5 mm to as much as 25 mm across. Each actuator can provide up to 5.5 µm of mechanical stroke, which corresponds to about 11 µm of phase control. The electrostatic actuator array is driven using independent high voltage channels with 14-bit resolution. This corresponds to sub-nanometer displacement precision. The drive electronics can provide frame rates of from about 4.6 kHz up to 100 kHz.
The control software for WS-AOD allows the user to correct for aberrations introduced as well as generate a random aberration using the DM. The software is open source code based in Mathwork’s Matlab and runs on platforms using Windows operating systems. By utilizing the included algorithm to manipulate the mirror surface, the mirror compensates for aberrations and converges to an optimal profile. The user has access to the open source code to balance correction capability between maximum signal and minimal time.
To learn more please click here for a copy of our Wavefront Sensorless Adaptive Optics white paper.
The SPIE Mirror Technology SBIR/STTR Workshop was held in Rochester, NY this year at the end of July. This is always a good conference for BMC, and we go every year. The conference can best be summarized from their website:
Tech Days annually summarizes the USA Government's investment strategies and activities in developing technology for any application (such as telescopes, imaging systems, seeker/trackers, high-energy laser systems, solar energy, etc.) which requires optical components. Tech Days covers technology investment efforts in: optical materials; substrate design & manufacture; optical fabrication and metrology technology; optical coatings; wavefront sensing and control via adaptive optics; nano-technology imaging technologies; etc.
I highlighted the text for emphasis as to why we attend: You can see why this is a great place for BMC to be. We get to present the latest progress on our NASA SBIRs (of which we have 4 ongoing), see some of the other great research that is going on in the field, and learn from the NASA Program Scientist what the future needs are for mirror technology. Also this year, BMC was a sponsor/exhibitor. This gave us a chance to set up a table displaying some mirrors and information about our products and technology. It was in a great spot at the conference where lunch, coffee breaks and the Tuesday night reception were held. While the conference was not as big as some other SPIE events (e.g. Photonics West and Optics and Photonics), it was a great opportunity to meet with some key people.
A couple of takeaways from the meeting were
(1) NASA SBIR/STTR program is strong and growing.
They are using the research funding they have for strategic programs that will help with technology development, which was called out in the decadal survey as an, if not the, important push for the next ten years.
(2) There is a continuing need for BMC mirror technology.
There are a number of projects that will require the wavefront control that our DMs can provide.
Both of these items point to a rich future for BMC and the deformable mirror industry as a whole. We look forward to connecting with these folks again next year and for many years to come.
Our customers are constantly making exciting scientific discoveries and we’re proud of the part our deformable mirrors play in their research. Dr. Meng Cui, Lab Head at Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Janelia Farm Research Campus recently presented the Iterative Multiphoton Adaptive Compensation Technique (IMPACT) that his team has developed for deep tissue microscopy at a webinar on “Advances in Biomedical Photonics”. In Dr. Cui’s presentation he discussed IMPACT which utilizes iterative feedback and the nonlinearity of two-photon signals to measure and compensate wavefront distortion introduced in tissue. He gave details on the imaging results on a variety of biological tissue including brain tissue through mouse skull and labeled T cells inside lymph nodes and compared his team's technique with conventional adaptive optics methods. For more details on Dr. Cui’s research you can view the entire webinar which was presented by Photonics Media at http://www.photonics.com/Webinar.aspx?WebinarID=21. Details of the research can be downloaded from the following site: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2012/05/09/1119590109.full.pdf
This year, the CLEO Conference had its normal interesting character: A variety of users from hardcore laser scientists to focused business interests to laser scanning imaging folks. Boston Micromachines took our position within the Thorlabs booth for the 5th year(thanks again, guys!) and demonstrated some great technologies that we think will make an impact in the industry. Our MEMS Optical Modulator generated a fair amount of interest and prompted some great questions about its capabilities and possibilities. We showed its flexibility by demonstrating how with a simple input signal and an amplifier, a reflective diffractive element can be used to couple light into a fiber at varying frequency and amplitude. We went into the show thinking this would be the big topic of conversation. While we did have some great conversations and we’re more than happy with the response, the real star of the show was our Wavefront Sensorless Adaptive Optics Demonstrator for Beam Shaping. Users from all walks of the laser industry approached me with potential uses from wavefront characterization techniques to photon counting. I learned that the simplistic nature of the kit (maximize a signal through a pinhole) allows researchers with very different backgrounds to think of interesting ways to take advantage of its versatility. We found that the simple, clear spot on the screen was enough to entice microscopists and laser scientists alike to brainstorm interesting ways in which to integrate the deformable mirror, detector and algorithm of the system into their latest work. I am looking forward to some great follow-up conversations!
I did get the chance to venture out of the booth for a few talks as well as touch base with some new and old friends. Major impressions:
1) AO is still not a major player in laser science
While there were some interesting topics and uses of deformable mirrors and spatial light modulators, the technique is by no means pervasive as in other industries such as astronomy or biological imaging. Other techniques such as MIIPS (congratulations again, Dr. Dantus) serve the industry and are well proven to be able to satisfactorily shape pulses. Another theory: Laser scientists prefer to go after the laser for improvements instead of supplementary hardware. This could be for a variety of reasons such as: a) extra hardware means lost light, b) this is where they are comfortable and love to tweak things or c) the cost is just too high right now.
2) Beam characterization is becoming more affordable
With a few companies introducing higher speed and lower cost wavefront sensors, the market is becoming more accessible to more researchers. This can only be good for everyone.
3) Booth traffic is down, but more focused
In past years, my conversations were usually an even split between educating the visitor about the basics and having in-depth discussions about the capabilities and possibility of integrating devices into optical systems. This year, the split was more like 75/25 in favor of detailed discussions. Many are well aware of the background and of the 75%, at least half approach me with well thought-out ideas. It is very refreshing and encouraging to have these discussions and I suspect the ratio will continue to grow as years go by.
Overall, it was a productive show. I look forward to returning to San Jose next year and introduce exciting products that we have in our product roadmap and get more people to shape their light!
Boston Micromachines has been awarded US$ 1.2M in contracts by NASA's Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR) to support space-based astronomy research. Now, one might wonder, considering this is astronomy, “why is anyone spending any money to develop deformable mirrors for use in space telescopes looking out at the stars? I thought that deformable mirrors were used to remove aberrations introduced by the atmosphere. There’s no atmosphere up there!”
Well, you’d be right: There is no atmosphere up there. But, there are aberrations: In the optical system. When systems are designed, none of them are completely perfectly aligned. There’s no such thing. But, when you’re looking for planets around stars in other galaxies, you need things to be well aligned. VERY well aligned. So, to compensate for any misalignments introduced either during transit to space or thermal variations in the instrument, you can use a deformable mirror as part of an adaptive optics system. So, for this, we are designing a 1021 segment (3063 actuator), tip-tilt-piston deformable mirror. It is the largest ever designed of this type and is expected to be used as part of a coronagraph telescope for exo-planet research.
Two other things to worry about are power and weight. In satellites, there is a very limited amount of power, and the weight greatly affects the cost to put the satellite into orbit. In terms of the mirror, MEMS has that taken care of: The power is extremely low and the weight is many orders of magnitude lower than traditional piezo-electric-based mirrors. So, the other half of the equation is the drive electronics. As part of this research, BMC is designing multiplexed drive electronics which will reduce the size and weight significantly and lower the power even further.
You put the two parts together, mirror hardware and drive electronics, and you have a low-cost, low-power, lightweight solution for the most cutting edge astronomy research going on right now.
If you have any questions, please contact me directly: I would be happy to talk about these products or refer you to the folks who are attacking this challenging problem.
Link to press release.
(Image credit: A giant Hubble mosaic of the Crab Nebula, a supernova remnant)
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