Interferometer with few parts measures distance

Nov. 22, 1999
A distance-measuring interferometer developed by a group at Tohoku University (Sendai, Japan) may be the simplest ever invented.

A distance-measuring interferometer developed by a group at Tohoku University (Sendai, Japan) may be the simplest ever invented. In its basic form, it consists of a laser, a detector, a mirror, and nothing else (although a lambda/4 plate and polarizing beamsplitter can be added for isolation). The trick is in the detector itself: made of silicon, it is constructed to be so thin that it is almost perfectly transparent to light. When inserted into a laser beam that is reflected back on itself to create a standing-wave pattern, the 40-nm-thick photodiode absorbs 0.6% of the light and, when either the mirror or detector is moved, maps the periodic intensity profile of the standing waves.

Appearing yellowish to the eye, the detector has interdigitated p+ and n+ regions, is 1 mm square, and has a sensitivity of 0.01 mA/W at 633 nm. Fresnel surface reflections cause the transmission to be 70% and the standing waves to appear nonsinusoidal; antireflection coatings should eliminate these effects. The researchers have mapped standing waves for a mirror movement of 20 mm. Acceptance angle of the device is ±0.3 mrad about the normal , at which point the detector begins to intersect more than one standing wave at a time. Adding a second detector with a pi/2 phase-shift plate will allow direction-sensitive distance measurement.

About the Author

John Wallace | Senior Technical Editor (1998-2022)

John Wallace was with Laser Focus World for nearly 25 years, retiring in late June 2022. He obtained a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering and physics at Rutgers University and a master's in optical engineering at the University of Rochester. Before becoming an editor, John worked as an engineer at RCA, Exxon, Eastman Kodak, and GCA Corporation.

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