A simple and accurate wavemeter for measuring the wavelength of monochromatic light is described. The device uses the wavelength-dependent phase lag between principal polarization states of a length of birefringent material (retarder) as the basis for the measurement of the optical wavelength. The retarder is sandwiched between a polarizer and a polarizing beam splitter and is oriented such that its principal axes are 45 deg to the axis of the polarizer and the principal axes of the beam splitter. As a result of the disparity in propagation velocities between the principal polarization states of the retarder, the ratio of the optical power exiting the two ports of the polarizing beam splitter is wavelength dependent. If the input wavelength is known to be within a specified range, the measurement of the power ratio uniquely determines the input wavelength. The device offers the advantage of trading wavelength coverage for increased resolution simply through the choice of the retarder length. Implementations of the device employing both bulk-optic components and fiber-optic components are described, and the results of a laboratory test of a fiber-optic prototype are presented. The prototype had a wavelength accuracy of ±0.03 nm.
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