The World's First "Optical Oscilloscope" Could Prove 10,000 Times Faster Than the Best DSO
A team of scientists from the University of Central Florida have created what they say is the world's first optical oscilloscope — bringing, its creators hope, the ability to measure oscillation 10,000 times faster than previous instruments.
An oscilloscope is one of the handiest tools in the engineer's arsenal. Designed to automate the process of capturing a waveform, a modern digital storage oscilloscope (DSO) lets the user track the changes in analogue signals over time — but aren't of much use when you're dealing with signals made of light, rather than voltage on a wire.
"Fiber optic communications have taken advantage of light to make things faster, but we are still functionally limited by the speed of the oscilloscope," explains physicist Michael Chini, associate professor at UCF, of his team's work. "Our optical oscilloscope may be able to increase that speed by a factor of about 10,000."
Compared to existing measurement methods, the team's approach allows for tracking of the precise peaks and valleys within each optical pulse — resolving right down to sub-femtosecond resolution in real-time.
"Strong-field non-linear excitation of photocurrents in a silicon-based image sensor chip can provide the sub-cycle optical gate necessary to characterize carrier-envelope phase-stable optical waveforms in the mid-infrared," the team explains of its approach.
"By mapping the temporal delay between an intense excitation and weak perturbing pulse onto a transverse spatial coordinate of the image sensor, we show that the technique allows single-shot measurement of few-cycle waveforms."
There is still plenty to be done before the technology can be bought as an off-the-shelf piece of diagnostic equipment, of course, starting by seeing just how far the speed of the optical oscilloscope can be raised.
The team's paper has been published in the journal Nature Photonics under closed-access terms.