Optical Coherence Tomography Tutorial
Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) is a noninvasive optical imaging modality that provides real-time, 1D depth, 2D cross-sectional, and 3D volumetric images with micron-level resolution and millimeters of imaging depth. OCT images consist of structural information from a sample based on light backscattered from different layers of material within the sample. It can provide real-time imaging and is capable of being enhanced using birefringence contrast or functional blood flow imaging with optional extensions to the technology.
Thorlabs has designed a broad range of OCT imaging systems that cover several wavelengths, imaging resolutions, and speeds, while having a compact footprint for easy portability. Also, to increase our ability to provide OCT imaging systems that meet each customer’s unique requirements, we have designed a highly modular technology that can be optimized for varying applications.
Retina Cone Cells
OCT is the optical analog of ultrasound, with the tradeoff being lower imaging depth for significantly higher resolution (see Figure 1). With up to 15 mm imaging range and better than 5 micrometers in axial resolution, OCT fills a niche between ultrasound and confocal microscopy.
In addition to high resolution and greater imaging depth, the non-contract, noninvasive advantage of OCT makes it well suited for imaging samples such as biological tissue, small animals, and materials. Recent advances in OCT have led to a new class of technologies called Fourier Domain OCT, which has enabled high-speed imaging at rates greater than 700,000 lines per second.1
Fourier Domain Optical Coherence Tomography (FD-OCT) is based on low-coherence interferometry, which utilizes the coherent properties of a light source to measure optical path length delays in a sample. In OCT, to obtain cross-sectional images with micron-level resolution, and interferometer is set up to measure optical path length differences between light reflected from the sample and reference arms.
There are two types of FD-OCT systems, each characterized by its light source and detection schemes: Spectral Domain OCT (SD-OCT) and Swept Source OCT (SS-OCT). In both types of systems, light is divided into sample and reference arms of an interferometer setup, as illustrated in Fig 2. SS-OCT uses coherent and narrowband light, whereas SD-OCT systems utilize broadband, low-coherence light sources. Back scattered light, attributed to variations in the index of refraction within a sample, is recoupled into the sample arm fiber and then combined with the light that has traveled a fixed optical path length along the reference arm. A resulting interferogram is measured through the detection arm of the interferometer.
The frequency of the interferogram measured by the sensor is related to depth locations of the reflectors in the sample. As a result, a depth reflectivity profile (A-scan) is produced by taking a Fourier transform of the detected interferogram. 2D cross-sectional images (B-scans) are produced by scanning the OCT sample beam across the sample. As the sample arm beam is scanned across the sample, a series of A-scans are collected to create the 2D image.
Similarly, when the OCT beam is scanned in a second direction, a series of 2D images are collected to produce a 3D volume data set. With FD-OCT, 2D images are collected on a time scale of milliseconds, and 3D images can be collected at rates now below 1 second.
Spectral Domain OCT vs. Swept Source OCT
Spectral Domain and Swept Source OCT systems are based on the same fundamental principle but incorporate different technical approaches for producing the OCT interferogram. SD-OCT systems have no moving parts and therefore have high mechanical stability and low phase noise. Availability of a broad range of line cameras has also enabled development of SD-OCT systems with varying imaging speeds and sensitivities.
SS-OCT systems utilize a frequency swept light source and photodetector to rapidly generate the same type of interferogram. Due to the rapid sweeping of the swept laser source, high peak powers at each discrete wavelength can be used to illuminate the sample to provide greater sensitivity with little risk of optical damage.
FD-OCT Signal Processing
In Fourier Domain OCT, the interferogram is detected as a function of optical frequency. With a fixed optical delay in the reference arm, light reflected from different sample depths produces interference patterns with the different frequency components. A Fourier transform is used to resolve different depth reflections, thereby generating a depth profile of the sample (A-scan).
1V.Jayaraman, J. Jiang, H.Li, P. Heim, G. Cole, B. Potsaid, J. Fujimoto, and A. Cable, "OCT Imaging up to 760 kHz Axial Scan Rate Using Single-Mode 1310 nm MEMs-Tunable VCSELs with 100 nm Tuning Range," CLEO 2011 - Laser Applications to Photonic Applications, paper PDPB2 (2011).