Development of the wideband and tunable quasi-optic terahertz (THz) components is in high demand. In this work, we demonstrate a tunable achromatic quarter-wave plate (AQWP) for the THz frequency range. The phase retardation of this device can be set at 90° ± 9° from 0.20 to 0.50 THz. The operation range from 0.20 to 0.50 THz can be tuned to from 0.30 to 0.70 THz by introducing three nematic liquid crystals phase retarders, of which the birefringence can be magnetically tuned. The frequency-dependent phase retardation is in good agreement with theoretical predictions.
© 2019 Optical Society of America under the terms of the OSA Open Access Publishing Agreement
Wave plates are essential for modulating the polarization states of light. The basic wave plate is designed to work at a particular wavelength. Therefore, achromatic wave plate (AWP) with a broad operating wavelength range is required for many applications. Several types of achromatic phase retarders have been demonstrated so far. Mainly, these are for the visible and near-infrared (NIR) wavelength range [1–5]. The terahertz (THz) technology and science have been in full swing for over two decades . These research and developments urgently need the quasi-optic THz components, such as polarizers , phase shifters [8–11], phase gratings [12–15], and wave plates [16–19]. Masson et al. reported an achromatic quarter-wave plate (AQWP) in the THz frequency range by using six or more pieces of birefringent crystalline quartz plates . Owing to the number of quartz plates with precise thickness needed, the fabrication of this kind of AWP is very complicated and bulky. Recently, Zhang et al. also demonstrated an wideband AQWP using silicon grating . However, both of these designs cannot adjust the achromatic range. Nematic liquid crystals (LCs) have been used in AWPs because its birefringence is relatively high and can be controlled electrically or magnetically. Previously, our group demonstrated the feasibility of reducing pulse broadening by applying the achromatic half wave plate and AQWP made of two and three LCs cells stacked together . In the past years, we have also demonstrated several THz phase shifters based on magnetically or electrically controlled birefringence in nematic LCs [8–11,20]. Most of these devices are capable of being designed for more than 360° of phase shift around 1 THz by increasing the thickness of LCs cell [10,20]. Recently, electrically tunable 2π THz phase shifters based on a sandwiched LC cell with indium-tin-oxide nanowhiskers as transparent electrodes have been well demonstrated . Further, the magnetically tunable 2π LCs THz phase shifter can be operated over a broad range near room temperature .
As described above, by picking up low-loss transparent electrodes which are extremely rare in the THz frequency range [8,10,11,19], the electrically tunable achromatic wave plate can be demonstrated. The advantage of applying the magnetic fields to tune LCs is without the requisite of transparent electrodes.
In this work, we proposed and demonstrated a LCs-based THz AQWP, of which the phase retardation can be tuned by changing the effective refractive index of LCs. The device consists of a standard half-wave plate and two standard third-wave plates. The critical concept is the partial cancellation of the change of retardation with frequency from each wave plate.
2. Experimental method
To shift THz operation range, we extended the design to a combination of three magnetically controlled LC phase retarders. Nematic LCs E7 are reasonably transparent in the THz range , and it also exhibits large birefringence. In THz frequency range, the ordinary and extraordinary refractive indices of E7 are no = 1.58 and ne = 1.71, respectively, and the corresponding imaginary indices are κo (0.01) to κe (0.007) .
The LC-based achromatic wave plate has three elements, TRA, TRB and TRC, which are tunable retarders (TRs) and shown in Fig. 1. Each TR consists of a pair of rotatable permanent magnets and a homeotropically aligned LC cell. The LC cell in the TR was constructed with two fused silica substrates and filled with nematic LCs, E7 (Merck). The substrates of LC cells were coated with N, N-dimethyl-n-octadecyl-3-aminopropyltrimethoxysilyl chloride (DMOAP) for homeotropic alignment . Thicknesses of LC layers in TRA, TRB and TRC were dA = 2.56 mm, dB = 3.86 mm, and dC = 2.56 mm, controlled by Teflon spacers. Besides, the thickness of fused silica is around 1mm. The threshold field required to reorient LC molecules with the magnetic field is less than 0.004 Tesla . The maximum magnetic field at cell position in the rotary permanent magnets (sintered Nd-Fe-B) is 0.25 Tesla. Sufficiently large magnetic field is applied for stable homogeneous alignment of LC molecules in the thick LC cell. The rotation axis of rotary magnets is perpendicular to the propagation direction of the THz wave and has an azimuthal angle ρi with respect to the normal axis of the table (ρA = 0°, ρB = 20° and ρC = 0°). So TRA, TRB, and TRC are used to achieve the desired variable phase retardation, ΓA(θ), ΓB(θ) and ΓC(θ), where θ is defined as the angle between the director of LC molecules and the polarization direction of electromagnetic wave. The TRs were placed between a pair of wire-grid polarizers (Specac, No. GS57204). We set the polarizer at fixed azimuthal angle ρp = −75°, it made the optic axis of achromatic quarter wave plate has 45° with respect to the polarization direction of THz wave in our photoconductive-antenna (PCA)-based transmission-type THz time-domain spectroscopy (THz-TDS) which has been described well in our previous works for characterization of the devices and materials in the THz frequency range . The schematic cartoon of THz emitter and detector is also shown in Fig. 1. The THz-TDS was always purged with dry nitrogen, so the relative humidity was maintained at 5.0 ± 0.5%. In this work, the inclination angles θ = 0° and θ = 30° for all TRs were demonstrated. The corresponding birefringence of LCs is 0.13 and 0.095, respectively. By rotating the magnetic field, the operation frequency range was shifted for that corresponding retardations were equal to quarter wave.
Basically, the purpose to design an THz AQWP can be regarded as finding combinations of retarders causing paths from a linearly polarization state (a fixed point on the equator of the sphere) to a circular polarization state (north of south pole of the sphere) on the Poincaré sphere over a wide THz frequency range. The theoretical model to achieve the goal is based on the analysis of Jones matrices with the phase difference equation, and retrieved total phase retardation from matrices. Each LC wave plate is described by its corresponding Jones matrix Ji (i = A, B and C) ,Eq. (1). The total Jones matrix of achromatic wave plate is given by , and it can be written into8]. The phase retardation, Γi(θ), due to magnetically controlled birefringence is given byEq. (4) can then be re-written as
The PCA-based THz-TDS only can detect the linear polarized THz field. To measure the retardation of LC based THz quarter wave plate, we introduced a new method of the ellipsometry by rotating wire grid analyzer . This technique allows determination of the retardation of the wave plate without rotating or moving the detector. A horizontal linearly polarized THz wave is sent through the wave plate to be investigated. The final exiting electric field Efinal carries out information on the wave plate as followsEq. (6).
3. Experimental results
The signal has been recorded in steps of 30° of the analyzer angle ϕ, leading to 24 times. The temporal waveforms of the THz pulse transmitted through the tunable AQWP with the E7 LCs layer aligned at magnetic inclination angle θ = 0° with different rotating angles ϕ are shown in Fig. 2. The transmitted amplitude of THz fields exhibit symmetry with respective to θ = 0° in time domain, because the most of transmitted broadband THz signals are circular polarized and only horizontal polarization of THz wave can be detected by photoconductive antenna. Then, power spectral data can be achieved by using fast Fourier transform of the temporal data. Here, the cases of 0° in black with the solid line and 180° in black with the dashed line should be the same condition, so that curves are consistent with each other well.
In Fig. 3, the transmittance values with different ϕ (when θ = 0°) are drawn with theoretic prediction at the frequency of 0.44 THz. The main reason we picked up 0.44 THz is the strongest resonant frequency of the THz radiation from PCA-based THz-TDS which is situated there. In other words, the signal-to-noise ratio at 0.44 THz showed the best performance compared with other frequencies. Considering the heavy loss from the LC retarders, we finally decided to show the case of 0.44 THz.
The experimental retardations obtained with the combination of the three LC plates at θ = 0° and 30°, depicted in Figs. 4 and 5, respectively.
In Fig. 4, the phase retardation of this device is about 90° from 0.20 to 0.50 THz, when θ = 0°. On the other hand, in Fig. 5, the phase retardation of this device is about 90° from 0.30 to 0.70 THz, when θ = 30°. The operation frequency range can be shifted by rotating the magnet set. The experimental data and the theoretical curves from the calculation of Jones matrices are in very good agreements. The thickness of the LC layer for the THz device should be close to the THz wavelength scale, around hundred μm, which will cause that LC molecules in the middle of cell cannot be aligned well by the magnetic field. The slight deviation between the numerical and the experimental results comes from here.
Dynamic responses of the devices are also of interests. The response time of the field-off state depended only on the material properties and cell thickness. Because of the slow responses, the current device is not suitable for applications that require fast modulation. However, the device is appropriate for instrumentation or apparatuses that require.
In summary, we have demonstrated for the first time an achromatic tunable terahertz (THz) birefringence quarter-wave plate using liquid crystal (LC) cells as the birefringent elements. The phase retardation of this device is 90° ± 9° from 0.20 to 0.50 THz, and the operation range can be tuned to from 0.30 to 0.70 THz by applying magnetically controlled birefringence in three nematic LCs retarders. The insertion loss of the present device is about 8 dB. The experimental data are in good agreements with theoretical predictions. To achieve the much larger bandwidth in THz frequency range, one can extend the design to a combination of more wave plates.
C.-F. H carried out the sample preparation, and optical measurement. C.-S. Y, F.-C. S, and C.-L. P performed theoretical analysis. C.-S. Y and C.-L. P wrote the manuscript with inputs from all authors.
U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research, AOARD FA2386-13-1-4086; Ministry of Science and Technology (Project number MOST 106-2112-M-007-022-MY2 & MOST 104-2221-E-007-093-MY3 & MOST 107-2112-M-003-014-MY3); Academic Top University Program of the Ministry of Education, Taiwan.
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