Abstract

The conventional optical attenuator for linearly polarized light is usually constructed with a half-wave retardation plate and a polarizer. With one axis of the polarizer aligned so as to transmit the incident beam fully, the addition of the half-wave plate causes the output power to follow a cos2 2θ dependence, where θ is the angle between the optic axis of the wave plate and the incident polarization. When the incident light has an additional orthogonal polarization component, the output power dependence becomes more complex and depends on the correlation between the two polarization fields 〈ExEy〉. More significantly, if amplitude noise in the polarization fields is correlated, the attenuator will couple the noise processes, which results in relative power fluctuations that increase as the optical power is reduced. The noise produced by this coupling may even exceed the noise of either polarization state alone. Measurements of the statistical behavior of the relative intensity noise of a cw mode-locked Nd:YAG laser as a function of the Wave-plate angle showed more than a tenfold increase when the output power was reduced to near minimum. In addition, the noise was found to be asymmetrical about the minimum power point, θ = 45°. It is shown that the simple addition of a polarizer ahead of the wave plate strips off the unwanted polarization field and virtually eliminates this added noise effect.

© 1991 Optical Society of America

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