Laser displacement interferometry is used extensively in precision equipment for semiconductor manufacture. In these applications it is often necessary to introduce a high velocity airflow to the measurement environment to minimize the density of airborne particulate contaminants. The performance of the heterodyne interferometer is degraded by the resulting fluctuations in the index of refraction along the beam path. The magnitude, correlation length, and probability distribution of the optical path length (OPL) fluctuations are measured for several airflow conditions. The data are interpreted in terms of the path length errors for some common interferometric configurations. The OPL fluctuations are generally less significant than the systematic sources of measurement error. A more fundamental limit on the accuracy of the heterodyne Michelson interferometer is the periodic nonlinearity caused by leakage of the frequency components in the beamsplitter. The effect is discussed in detail. A direct observation of the nonlinearity is reported. The magnitude of the effect is about λ/64 for the beam splitters used in this experiment. A simple technique which indicates the presence and magnitude of the nonlinearity is described.
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