The polarization state of reflected light off a thin layer (50–150 nm) of vanadium dioxide (VO2) is analyzed as the material undergoes a phase transition induced by a pulsed laser beam. Choosing certain polarization states of incident light, we show that phase shifts enable polarization modulation and rotation of linear polarization by 90°. Combining this effect with polarizers, high modulation amplitudes and contrast ratios are obtained at nanosecond time scale. Applications for ultrafast polarization modulators over wide spectral range are discussed.

© 2017 Optical Society of America

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