Abstract

Transverse-periodic-oriented nematic liquid crystals (LCs) are a special type of optical axis grating that are capable of very high efficiency diffraction (theoretically, 100%) in thin layers of materials with thickness comparable to the radiation wavelength. In particular, they fully diffract linearly polarized input beam into circularly polarized +1st and 1st diffraction orders. We experimentally demonstrate switching between diffraction orders of such gratings when the polarization of the incident beam changes from right-circular to left-circular and vice versa with the aid of an electrically controlled LC phase retarder. Such a setup in which the diffraction efficiency and direction are controlled externally, without application of an electric field to the transverse-periodic grating, provides additional control opportunities and does not compromise the quality of the grating. The grating used in the experiment was 1.5μm thick and had a period of 4μm. The contrast ratio of switching between the +1st and 1st orders was as high as 267:1 for a HeNe laser beam with a switching time of 6.6ms.

© 2006 Optical Society of America

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