Optical inspection of liquid crystal variable retarder inhomogeneities.
ABSTRACT Liquid crystal variable retarders (LCVRs) are starting to be widely used in optical systems because of their capacity to provide a controlled variable optical retardance between two orthogonal components of incident polarized light or to introduce a known phase shifting (PS) between coherent waves, both by means of an applied voltage. Typically, the retardance or PS introduced by an LCVR is not homogeneous across the aperture. On the one hand, the LCVR glass substrates present a global bend that causes an overall variation of the retardance or PS. On the other hand, in the manufacturing process of an LCVR, there sometimes appears a set of micro-air bubbles that causes local retardance or PS inhomogeneities. In this work, we present an interferometric technique based on a Mach-Zehnder interferometer that is insensitive to vibrations and capable of inspecting and characterizing the LCVR's retardance or PS inhomogeneities. The feasibility of the proposed method is demonstrated in the experimental results, where the LCVR retardance is measured with an error of about 0.2 rad. The thickness of possible micro-air bubbles is obtained with a resolution of about 50 nm.