Rotating spherical beamsplitter

Improves design over traditional cubic devices, reduces optical distortion, and revolves around multiple axes


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Scientist Gorden Videen at the Army Research Laboratory has invented a rotating, spherical beam splitter for optical devices.

Beam splitters are used in optical devices to split incident light. (Hans Braxmeier/Pixabay)

The patented technology is available via license agreement to companies that would make, use, or sell it commercially.

A conventional beam splitter comprises a cube of optically-transparent material that encases a thin layer of semi-reflecting material oriented diagonally across its interior.

About half of the light entering one face of the beam splitter is reflected by the semi-reflecting material through an adjacent face as a reflected light beam. The remaining portion of the light from the incident light is transmitted by the layer of semi-reflecting material through the opposite face as a transmitted light beam. Beam splitters are used in optical devices such as in scanners, interferometers, and back-scattering detectors.

One problem associated with conventional cubic beamsplitters is distortion caused by light striking the beam splitter’s face at oblique, i.e., non-perpendicular, angles. The transmission through the beamsplitter is refracted according to Fresnel’s Equations. The resulting light beam is parallel to the incident beam but displaced from it. The amount of displacement depends on the angle of incidence and the index of refraction of the optical materials used in the beamsplitter.

The ARL researcher has invented a spherically shaped beam splitter to address these challenges.

One significant advantage of a spherical over a cubical beam splitter is that light can be transmitted and received at an angle that is normal to its exterior surface. Therefore, at least some of the light can be propagated without distortion. A rotation mechanism can be configured to revolve the beamsplitter around more than one axis, or in tandem with the light source.

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