first optical oscilloscope unveiled | Electronic design

What you will learn:

  • Problems with high speed optical signals.
  • A real-time measurement solution.
  • Information about the team that developed it.

A team from the University of Central Florida (UCF) developed the world’s first optical oscilloscope, an instrument capable of measuring the electric field of light. The device converts light oscillations into electrical signals, much like hospital monitors convert a patient’s heart rate into an electrical oscillation.

Until now, reading the electric field of light has been a challenge due to the high speeds at which light waves oscillate. The most advanced techniques can currently clock electric fields at frequencies up to gigahertz, covering the radiofrequency and microwave regions of the electromagnetic spectrum.

However, current light field measurement tools could only resolve an average signal associated with a “pulse” of light, not the peaks and valleys within the pulse. It is important to measure these peaks and valleys within a single pulse because it is in this space that more information can be packaged and delivered.

“Fiber optic communications have taken advantage of light to speed things up, but we’re still functionally limited by the speed of the oscilloscope,” says associate professor of physics Michael Chini, who worked on research at the UCF. “Our optical oscilloscope may be able to increase this speed by a factor of about 10,000.” The team’s findings are published in the Photonics of nature newspaper.

The team developed the device and demonstrated its ability to measure the electric fields of individual laser pulses in real time in Chini’s lab at UCF. The next step for the team is to see how far they can push the technical speed limits.

The main author of the article is UCF postdoctoral researcher Yangyang Liu. Other authors include physics alumni Jonathan Nesper ’19 ’21MS, who earned his bachelor’s degree in mathematics and his master’s degree in physics; Shima Gholam-Mirzaei ’18MS’ 20PhD; and John E. Beetar ’15 ’17MS’ 20PhD.

Gholam-Mirzaei is now a postdoctoral researcher at the Joint Attosecond Science Laboratory of the National Research Council of Canada and the University of Ottawa. Beetar is completing a post-doctorate at the University of California at Berkeley.

Chini came up with the idea for the one-shot waveform measurement scheme and oversaw the research team. Liu led the experimental effort and performed most of the measurements and simulations. Beetar assisted with measurements of carrier-envelope phase dependence. Nesper and Gholam-Mirzaei helped build the experimental setup and collect data. All authors contributed to the data analysis and wrote the journal article.

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