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Acousto-optic modulators, or AOMs, are small nonlinear devices that allow one in essence to mix a phonon together with another photon, and to produce an outgoing photon with modified energy and k-vector. A transducer is mounted on the side of a transparent crystal, and launches a large-amplitude ultra-sound wave across the crystal, usually in the frequency range of 40-400 MHz. The sound-wave looks like a Bragg grating to the incoming light, and the light undergoes Bragg diffraction from the grating. The +1 order diffraction peak corresponds to the light deflecting away from the transducer (picking up the energy and the momentum of the phonon) and the –1 order diffraction peak corresponds to the light deflecting towards the transducer (giving up the energy and momentum into the phonon field). By inserting the crystal into the light beam and tilting it slightly from side to side while observing the transmitted intensity pattern on a IR disclosing card, one can readily identify the different diffraction orders (the 0 order mode is the one that persists when the rf power driving the transducer is disconnected. +2 and –2 modes are sometimes observed as well) and optimize the intensity diffracted into the desired mode. Because the transducer is driven by radio-frequency power, physicists familiar with rf technology may find it easiest to think of the AOM as a mixer that takes as its inputs one electromagnetic wave in the 100 MHz range, and one in the 400 THz range, and generates sum and difference frequencies. The outgoing frequencies are diffracted in slightly different directions, so one can readily put up opaque blocks to absorb all but the desired mode, say the sum frequency. In this mode the AOM-mixer can act as a fast optical switch.
On request, one of the authors (Eric Cornell firstname.lastname@example.org) could provide various supporting materials such as image processing software and circuit diagrams to parties seriously considering building an apparatus similar to the one described here.
Viewpoint USA has recently begun to produce a similar board (DIO-64) with 64 outputs and an improved resolution of 50 ns. This new board is PCI rather than ISA and should be compatible with the exsisting software drivers written for the DIO-128.
Trade names are used here for identification purposes only and do not constitute an endorsement by the authors or their institutions.
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