Photonics Lab Instructional Videos

Photonics Lab Instructional Videos

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Align a Laser Beam Level to the Optical Table



Two methods for aligning a laser beam so that it propagates parallel to the surface of the optical table are demonstrated.

The first technique adjusts the pointing angle of a laser, whose tip and tilt can be adjusted. Using a ruler, the laser beam is leveled and directed along a row of tapped holes in the table.

Starting with this aligned beam, the technique for changing both the direction and the height of a beam from a fixed laser source is demonstrated. Two mirrors, which are set at different heights, direct the beam along another row of tapped holes in the table. The beam is then leveled at the height of the second mirror using two irises.

Components include a PL202 laser module, KM100 kinematic mounts, AD11NT adapter, BHM1 ruler, PF10-03-P01 mirrors, and IDA25 irises.

Date of Last Edit: Sept. 8, 2020



Optical Power Meter Parameter Setup for Improved Accuracy



An optical power meter should be configured specifically for the light incident on the power sensor. Three important optical power meter parameters to set are the center wavelength of the light, the maximum optical power the sensor will measure, and the zero offset resulting from the detection of ambient light.

The procedure for setting these three parameters, and some things to consider while configuring them, are demonstrated and discussed using a PM400 optical power meter, an S3FC520 fiber-coupled laser source, and an S120C optical power sensor.

Always follow your institution's laser safety guidelines. Unlike the low-power source used in this demonstration, other laser sources may be damaged by back reflections. Many stray reflections, which can endanger colleagues and the laser, can be avoided by blocking the laser beam when it is not needed. 

Date of Last Edit: Sept. 24, 2020



Mount a Translation Stage and Install a Motorized Actuator



The procedures for replacing the manual adjusters on a couple of translation stages with motorized actuators are demonstrated. Using the techniques described here allows the adjuster to be exchanged without damaging the stage.

The first example uses a MT1B linear translation stage with a 0.5" travel range. The adjuster screw is swapped for a ZFS13B stepper-motor-driven actuator. In the second half of the video, the micrometer on an XR25P linear translation stage with a 1" travel range is replaced by a Z825B DC-servo-motor-driven actuator.

In addition, the video provides an introduction to best practices for mounting these stages to a table or breadboard and demonstrates the use of the locking plate. 

Date of Last Edit: Sept. 4, 2020



Tips for Bolting Post Holders to Optical Tables, Bases, and Breadboards



A common, unfortunate result of securing a post holder to a base or optical table is threads poking up through the bottom of the post holder. These exposed threads limit the height adjustment range offered by the post holder. Additional frustrations can result after rotating the post in the post holder, since this can unintentionally screw the post onto the exposed threads.

The solution is to keep screw length in mind when selecting a setscrew or cap screw to secure a post holder. In this video, observe consequences unfold due to threads projecting up from the bottom of the post holder, and learn techniques for overcoming this problem. The options of securing a post holder to a base or directly to the table are also compared.

Components used in this demonstration include Ø1/2" post holders, a BA2 base, Ø1/2" posts, cap screws, setscrews, and an iris.

Date of Last Edit: Sept. 24, 2020



Align a Free-Space Faraday Isolator for Operation at the Laser Wavelength



Align a Faraday isolator to ensure optimal transmission of optical power from the source, as well as effective suppression of reflections traveling back towards the source. Alignment is demonstrated using an IO-3-532-LP polarization-dependent free-space isolator with a 510 nm to 550 nm operating range, an R2T post collar, a PL201 linearly polarized and collimated 520 nm laser, a S120C silicon power sensor, and a PM400 power meter.

These optical isolators output linearly polarized light and provide best performance when the input beam is linearly polarized.

Always follow your institution's laser safety guidelines. Unlike the low-power source used in this demonstration, other laser sources may be damaged by back reflections. Many stray reflections, which can endanger colleagues and the laser, can be avoided by blocking the laser beam when it is not needed. 

Date of Last Edit: Sept. 10, 2020



Align a Linear Polarizer's Axis to be Perpendicular or Parallel to the Table



The beam paths through many optical setups are routed parallel to the optical table. When this is the case, both the plane of incidence and the p-polarization state are typically oriented parallel to the table's surface, while the s-polarization state is perpendicular. Therefore, polarizers aligned to pass p- or s- polarized light effectively have their axes aligned to be parallel or perpendicular, respectively, to the table's surface.

A procedure for optically aligning the axis of a polarizer to be perpendicular to the optical table is discussed and demonstrated using optical power readings of light transmitted through the polarizer. Then, three options for aligning the axis of a polarizer to be parallel to the table are outlined. The method of crossed polarizers is demonstrated. Tips and tricks for obtaining more precise measurements are also shared.

Components used in this demonstration include a collimated laser, a polarizing beam splitter, linear polarizers, precision rotation mounts, an optical power sensor, and a power meter. There are also special appearances by a post collar and a ruler.

Date of Last Edit: Oct. 23, 2020



Cleave a Large-Diameter Silica Fiber Using a Hand-Held Scribe



An optical-quality end face can be achieved when a large-diameter optical fiber is manually cleaved using a hand-held scribe. The procedure is demonstrated using a multimode fiber with a 400 µm diameter core.

After stripping the protective polymer buffer from the end of the fiber and securing the fiber to a flat surface, a hand-held scribe is used to score the top surface of the fiber. The scribe should create a shallow nick in the fiber's cladding, away from the fiber's core. When cleaving smaller-diameter fibers, avoid creating too deep of a nick by reducing the scribing force and sweeping motion. In some cases, it is sufficient to lightly press a stationary scribe to the fiber. Applying a longitudinal tension to the fiber, across the nicked region, cleaves the fiber.

Also demonstrated is the visual evaluation of the end face quality using an eye loupe. A good quality end face will be a flat plane, perpendicular to the fiber's long axis. The light output from the cleaved end face was also observed on a viewing screen, and tips are shared for inspecting the output light distribution for information about the quality of the end face.

Components used in this demonstration include a tool for stripping the fiber buffer, a ruby scribe, an SMA bare fiber terminator, a 10X eye loupe, fiber grippers, a fiber-coupled LED, a viewing screen, and a quick-release adjustable fiber clamp on a free-standing platform.

Date of Last Edit: Nov. 3, 2020



Measure the Insertion Loss of a Fiber Optic Component



Insertion loss measures the drop in optical power caused by the addition of a device to a fiber optic network. All sources of optical loss contribute to a device's insertion loss, including reflections, absorption and scattering due to intrinsic material properties, micro- and macrobending losses, split ratios, splice loss, and connector loss.

A single-ended insertion loss measurement is demonstrated. In this approach, a reference cable is attached to the source, and then the power at the cable's output is measured. Next, a mating sleeve is used to attach the component under test to the reference cable. The optical power at the selected output port of the component is measured. The insertion loss is calculated by first taking the ratio of this power reading to the power measured at the reference cable output, and then expressing the ratio in terms of decibels (dB).

The single-ended insertion loss measurement includes the loss from coupling light into the device, which is often mostly due to the misalignment of the fiber cores in the mating sleeve. However, this measurement does not include the same type of loss that occurs when coupling the light output from the device into the next leg of the fiber optic network. Note also that the insertion loss is wavelength dependent and will differ for each combination of device input and output ports selected for the measurement. This is due to the differences in split ratio, bend loss, absorption, scattering, reflections, and all other individual sources of attenuation along the optical path between the two ports.

Components used in this demonstration include a fiber-coupled laser source, a mating sleeve, a power sensor designed for fiber-coupled sources, a power meter, a 50:50 fiber coupler, and single mode fiber patch cables.

Date of Last Edit: Dec. 3, 2020



Create Circularly Polarized Light Using a Quarter-Wave Plate



Circularly polarized light can be generated by placing a quarter-wave plate in a linearly polarized beam, provided a couple of conditions are met. The first is that the light's wavelength falls within the wave plate's operating range. The second is that the wave plate's slow and fast axes, which are orthogonal, are oriented at 45° to the direction of the linear polarization state. When this is true, the incident light has equal-magnitude components parallel to the wave plate's two axes. The wave plate delays the component parallel to the slow axis by a quarter of the light's wavelength (/2) with respect to the component parallel to the fast axis. By creating this delay, the wave plate converts the polarization state from linear to circular.

An animation at the beginning of the demonstration illustrates the results of aligning the input linear polarization state with the wave plate's fast axis, slow axis, and angles in between. The perspective used to describe the angles and orientations is looking into the source, opposite the direction of light propagation. The procedure is then demonstrated for orienting input and output polarizers to define the reference orthogonal polarization directions, as well as provide polarization-dependent power measurements. The wave plate is placed between the two polarizers, and the effects of different orientations are explored. The quality of the circularly polarized light output by the wave plate is checked by rotating the second polarizer's transmission axis. The light's polarization is closer to circular when the power reading fluctuates less during rotation. 

Components used in this demonstration include a HeNe laser equipped with an optical isolator, a V-clamp mount, precision rotation mounts, a quarter-wave plate, linear film polarizers, a power sensor, SM1 thread adapter for the power sensor, a SM1 lens tube, and an optical power meter.

Date of Last Edit: Dec. 30, 2020



Align a Linear Polarizer 45° to the Plane of Incidence



The transmission axis of a linear polarizer can be set at a 45° angle to the plane of incidence, with the help of two additional linear polarizers. The two supporting polarizers are aligned so that one's axis is parallel and the other's is perpendicular to the plane of incidence. Orienting the transmission axis of the third polarizer at a 45° angle to the plane of incidence is done by rotating the transmission axis to make 45° angle with the axes of the polarizer pair.

This is demonstrated for the case in which the plane of incidence is parallel to the optical table. The procedure used to align the first polarizer's axis parallel to the table requires repeatedly rotating the polarizer 180° around the vertical axis. The linear polarizer assemblies have rectangular bases, and the fixed position retainer (fork) provides a fixed corner reference on the table. The fork allows the polarizer assembly to be quickly and precisely placed after flipping it around the vertical axis. Following each 180° flip, the transmission axis of the polarizer is first rotated by hand and then finely tuned using the mount's integrated micrometer (mic). After the first polarizer's axis is aligned, the second polarizer's axis is then crossed with it. When this is done, the light transmitted by the second polarizer is minimized.

The third polarizer is then placed between the other two polarizers and its transmission axis is rotated. The rotation angle affects the optical power transmitted by this set of three polarizers, and the throughput is maximized when the angle is 45° with the plane of incidence. One way to check the result, as well as determine the maximum possible power that can be obtained at the detector, is to use the cosine squared (Malus') law. It calculates the power output by a linear polarizer when the incident light is linearly polarized.

Components used in this demonstration include a collimated laser module, linear film polarizers, precision rotation mounts, a power sensor, a SM1 thread adapter for the power sensor, a SM1 lens tube, and an optical power meter.

Date of Last Edit: Feb. 8, 2021



Align Fiber Collimators to Create Free Space Between Single Mode Fibers



Two collimators, inserted into a fiber optic setup, provide free-space access to the beam. The first collimator accepts the highly diverging light from the first fiber and outputs a free-space beam, which propagates with an approximately constant diameter to the second collimator. The second collimator accepts the free-space beam and couples that light into the second fiber. Some collimation packages, including the pair used in this demonstration, are designed for use with optical fibers and mate directly to fiber connectors.

Ideally, 100% of the light emitted by the first fiber would be coupled into the second fiber, but some light will always be lost due to reflections, scattering, absorption, and misalignment. Misalignment, typically the largest source of loss, can be minimized using the alignment and stabilization techniques described in this video.

In this demonstration, the first fiber is single mode. The optical power incident on the second collimator, as well as the power output by the second fiber, are measured. When the second fiber is multimode with a 50 µm diameter core, alignment resulted in 91% of the power incident on the second collimator being measured at the fiber output. This value was 86% when the second fiber is single mode. Some differences in collimator designs, and their effects on the characteristics of the collimated beams, are also discussed.

Components used in this demonstration include a fiber-coupled laser, triplet fiber optic collimators, kinematic mounts, an adapter between each mount and collimator, a power sensor, a SM1 thread adapter for the power sensor, a fiber adapter cap with SM1 threads, a power meter, fiber optic patch cables (FC/PC single mode, hybrid single mode, and step-index multimode), a fiber connector cleaner, storage reels for fiber patch cables, 2" posts, and 0.5" post holders.

Date of Last Edit: April 1, 2021



Setting Up a TO Can Laser Diode (Viewer Inspired)



Installing a TO can laser diode in a mount and setting it up to run under temperature and current control presents many opportunities to make a mistake that could damage or destroy the laser. This step-by-step guide includes tips for keeping humans and laser diodes safe from harm.

Protection from the considerable risk of electrostatic discharge (ESD) is provided by an ESD strap, but only if the strap is grounded and worn correctly. Wearing the strap as demonstrated makes it easier to keep the strap's metal plate in constant skin contact. Moisturizing the skin with lotion formulated for use in electronic and cleanroom environments can also help.

A laser diode can be damaged by attempting to force it into a socket that is the wrong size. To avoid this, find a suitable mount by referencing the physical dimensions of the pins identified in the video. Since current flow in the wrong direction is also dangerous to laser diodes, it is critical to correctly orient the laser in the socket, as well as properly set the polarity of the mount's switches. Current drivers typically also have a polarity setting. The diode orientation and mount and driver settings can be determined using information included in the laser's pin diagram and electrical diagram, whose symbols are decoded and explained in the video.

Excessive operating temperatures and drive current are both risks that can be mitigated using correctly configured current and temperature controllers. Their setup is demonstrated. The proper use of two frequently misunderstood parameters, maximum power and maximum current, in configuring the current driver is also shown.

Components used in this demonstration include an ESD strap, a TO can laser diode, a laser diode mount, a flexure clamping base, tweezerslaser safety glasses, an integrating sphere power sensor, a power meter, a current controller, and a temperature controller.

Date of Last Edit: May 7, 2021


Setting Up a Pigtailed Butterfly Laser Diode (Viewer Inspired)


A laser diode packaged in a butterfly housing can be precisely controlled, in a compact package, when the laser is installed in a mount that includes thermoelectric cooler (TEC) and current drivers. The mount can make it easier, and safer, to operate the laser, but the procedure for installing the laser in the mount and configuring the settings requires some care. This video provides a step-by-step guide, which begins with an introduction to the different components and concludes with the laser operating under TEC control and with the recommended maximum current limit enabled.

This demonstration is also filled with useful details that can be forgotten in bulleted lists describing the setup procedure. These include tips for wearing an ESD strap, determining when to use thermal grease, applying the right amount of thermal grease, creating good electrical connections between the laser's pins and mount, easing the removal of the laser from the mount, safeguarding the fiber pigtail of the installed laser, cleaning an angled physical contact (APC) fiber connector, using the Steinhart-Hart thermistor values provided on the laser spec sheet, and making power measurements to determine the laser's current limit setting.

Components used in this demonstration include a 1550 nm fiber-pigtailed laser in a butterfly package, a laser diode mount with TEC for butterfly packages, an ESD strap, a polarization maintaining fiber patch cable, a power sensor, a power meter, and a fiber connector cleaner.

Date of Last Edit: June 17, 2021



Distinguish the Fast and Slow Axes of a Wave Plate


A wave plate has two axes, and light polarized parallel to the slow axis is delayed more than light polarized parallel to the orthogonal fast axis. The wave plate's retardance determines the delay difference. A couple of crossed polarizers can be used to locate an axis (Video Insight) but cannot identify the axis as fast or slow. However, by including a mirror in the setup and comparing optical power measurements with calculated values, it is possible to distinguish between the fast and slow axes. While this approach is compatible with wave plates of any retardance, the technique was demonstrated using a quarter-wave plate.

The video includes an overview of the measurement setup and discussion of the conventions used to align and orient the optical components. The accurate interpretation of the results depends on these details, including whether the transmission axes of the generating and analyzing polarizers are parallel or orthogonal (crossed). Crossed polarizers are used in this demonstration, in contrast to a paper [1] that also describes the technique.

The fast and slow axes of the wave plate are identified by comparing measurements of the power transmitted through the system to a pair of theoretical curves. The Fresnel reflection equations, as well as other equations, needed to compute these curves are provided. The refractive index of the reflective surface is required to generate these curves. Note that complex refractive indices can be written with a positive or a negative sign before the imaginary part, depending on the preferred convention. Either option is compatible with this approach, but be aware that the chosen sign affects the interpretation of the curves. In this demonstration, the positive-sign convention was chosen.

Components used in this demonstration include a HeNe laser, an optical isolator, linear polarizers, rotation mounts, a quarter-wave plate, an unprotected gold mirror, a mirror mount, a lens tube, a quick-release lens tube adapter, an iris, a power sensor, and a power meter.

[1] Petre Ctlin Logoftu, "Simple method for determining the fast axis of a wave plate," Opt. Eng. 44, 3316-3318 (2002).

Date of Last Edit: July 30, 2021



Visual Studio® Project Setup and C# Programming - Kinesis® BBD300 Series Controller


Starting a program and initializing connected devices can be one of the largest hurdles to writing code that remotely controls a device. This tutorial for Thorlabs' Kinesis® software package provides step-by-step instructions for using C# and the .NET framework to create a new Visual Studio® project and initialize connected devices, which in this case is a BBD300 series motion controller connected to a two-axis stage. A basic move sequence is then added to the program and used to test the execution of the code.

The demonstration begins with instructions for creating a new Visual Studio project and adding the required dynamic link libraries (DLLs). In this example, there is one connected controller. The program is written to execute its two-step initialization process, since the controller's chassis and channels must be initialized individually. Each channel connects to one axis of a connected stage.

In this demonstration, one of the controller's two channels is initialized, allowing the two-axis stage to be moved in one direction. Custom velocity and position settings are specified for the move command, and instructions are included to perform the disconnect shutdown sequence after the move sequence is completed. Try-catch blocks are added to the code to provide instructions to the program in the case that an error is thrown by a method. Command and position status information is made available to the user, and status messages are printed to the PC's console screen.

Components used in this demonstration include the Kinesis software package, a two-axis Brushless DC controller, an XY scanning stage, and a slide/petri dish holder for inverted microscopes.

Date of Last Edit: Sept. 20, 2021


Posted Comments:
aroopkanti bose  (posted 2021-07-15 17:21:51.7)
Can you please add a video on SPCM20A/M appln
lmorgus  (posted 2021-07-16 09:33:53.0)
A response from Laurie at Thorlabs to aroopkanti bose: Thanks for your suggestion! Do you have a specific application in mind for a single photon counter?