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Optical Sampling

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Definition: a technique of sampling signals using laser light, often in the form of ultrashort pulses

German: optische Abtastung, optisches Sampling

Category: methods

How to cite the article; suggest additional literature

Optical sampling (also called optoelectronic sampling) refers to a class of techniques where optical signals (usually in the form of ultrashort pulses) are used to probe electrical signals. Sometimes, however, optical signals themselves are sampled.

Some basic principles, as used in different forms of optical sampling, are:

Particular techniques of optical sampling are:

In some cases, different techniques are used at the same time. It is possible e.g. to generate a high-bandwidth microwave signal with a photoconductive switch and analyze its effects by electro-optic sampling.


Some typical applications of optical sampling are:

The main attractions of optical sampling are:

Synchronous Versus Asynchronous Optical Sampling

When data are recorded in the time domain for different delay times, the delay time is often varied with a mechanical delay line, realized e.g. with a corner cube on a motorized translation stage. This approach, however, called synchronous sampling, limits the speed with which a range of delays can be realized, and consequently the speed with which whole transmission spectra or the alike can be recorded.

Much faster data acquisition is possible with asynchronous sampling, using two different mode-locked lasers with slightly different pulse repetition rates. This automatically provides a temporally varying delay between the two pulses. The difference in pulse repetition rates determines how many times per second the measurement interval – given by the inverse average repetition rate – is scanned. This effective scan rate, however, must be low enough to allow for a sufficient temporal resolution, which is then limited by the detection bandwidth (not by the pulse duration). A high pulse repetition rate helps, provided that it is low enough to allow for a sufficiently large temporal range.

As an example, asynchronous sampling with two 1-GHz mode-locked lasers is sufficient for recording terahertz transmission spectra with a 1-GHz frequency resolution, corresponding to a temporal range of 1 ns. A 10-kHz difference of repetition frequency means that 10 000 spectra per second can be recorded. This allows one either to record data for many samples per second (e.g. to obtain position-dependent transmission spectra or even two-dimensional transmission images), or to average many spectra of a single sample within a few seconds, lowering the detection noise to a very low level. Using fast detection electronics, it is possible to record thousands of transmission spectra, ranging from virtually zero to several terahertz, within 1 s.

The asynchronous sampling method can be applied in essentially the same way to other pump–probe measurements, e.g. to measure the recovery dynamics of semiconductor saturable absorber mirrors or similar structures.

An additional advantage of asynchronous sampling is that mechanical noise of the delay time and position-dependent mode sizes are avoided. On the other hand, all the advantages obviously come at the cost of requiring two lasers instead of one.


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(Suggest additional literature!)

See also: electro-optic sampling, photoconductive sampling, pump–probe measurements, terahertz radiation, laser applications
and other articles in the category methods

In the RP Photonics Buyer's Guide, 3 suppliers for equipment for optical sampling are listed.

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