Understanding optics helps optimize performance

Oct. 1, 1997
Optics are critical elements of any system that operates with light, from laser systems to receivers to imagers. Optical components are ubiquitous, yet most engineers are not specialists in the field and lack information that might allow them to obtain better performance from their systems. In this Optics Handbook, a collection of articles by optics specialists helps engineers and scientists better understand the fabrication, capabilities, and use of optics.

Understanding optics helps optimize performance

Optics are critical elements of any system that operates with light, from laser systems to receivers to imagers. Optical components are ubiquitous, yet most engineers are not specialists in the field and lack information that might allow them to obtain better performance from their systems. In this Optics Handbook, a collection of articles by optics specialists helps engineers and scientists better understand the fabrication, capabilities, and use of optics.

All readers of Laser Focus World have used optical components at one time or another, but many do not necessarily understand the component-manufacturing process. Peter Griffith and Alex Marien describe the basics of optical fabrication, beginning with a glass blank and ending with a superpolished surface. A glossary accompanying the text defines important terms describing the form and appearance of optical surfaces.

From the point of view of economics and timeliness, catalog optics are generally the first choice of scientists and engineers. Customers do not always understand the breadth of capabilities available from these suppliers, however, which can sometimes drive them to purchase custom components when in reality a stock or modified stock component could solve their problem. James Doty discusses how to get the best possible solution from catalog houses--how to choose a component to adequately perform a given task without overspecifying capabilities or making tolerances needlessly tight.

Not all applications require glass optics. In certain cases, plastic components may offer the most economical performance. In other cases, plastic optics can offer advantages over glass optics, for example, by incorporating mounting elements or spacers into the component design and fabrication. Gina Kritchevsky and John Schaefer detail the advantages and limitations of plastic optics, offering design tips to hel¥engineers use these components to best advantage.

Choosing the appropriate components is not sufficient to ensure optimum performance from a system. In laboratory settings, researchers repetitively adjust mirror, lens, and grating positions to coax the best possible results from an experimental setup, often at a significant cost of time. Lawrence West describes AutoOptics, an automation system for laboratory use. The controller can position components, interrogate detectors, adjust source performance, and control external instrumentation, allowing researchers to concentrate on the results rather than the mechanics of their experiments.

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