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Phase Modulators

Definition: devices for manipulating the phase of a laser beam

More general terms: optical modulators

German: Phasenmodulatoren

Category: photonic devices

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A phase modulator is an optical modulator which can be used to control the optical phase of a laser beam.

Frequently used types of phase modulators are electro-optic modulators based on Pockels cells, and liquid crystal modulators, but it is also possible e.g. to exploit thermally induced refractive index changes or length changes e.g. of an optical fiber, or induce length changes by stretching. Various kinds of phase modulators are used within the area of integrated optics, where the modulated light propagates in waveguides.

Important properties of phase modulators are:

For different types of phase modulators, such properties vary in huge ranges. Therefore, different kinds of phase modulators are appropriate for different applications.


Some examples of applications of phase modulators are:

  • A phase modulator within a laser resonator of a single-frequency laser can be used for wavelength tuning, or for active mode locking (FM mode locking) of a laser.
  • A phase modulation of a beam with moderate modulation strength is often used in laser frequency stabilization schemes, e.g. with the Pound–Drever–Hall method.
  • Various kinds of interferometers and setups for spectroscopic measurements require phase modulators, often with a periodic drive signal.
  • Some metrology applications require frequency combs, generated by sending a single-frequency beam into a phase modulator. In that case, the phase modulation often needs to be strong in order to obtain a large number of optical sidebands.
  • In data transmitters of optical fiber communication systems, phase modulators can be used for encoding the transmitted information. An example is the method of phase shift keying.


The RP Photonics Buyer's Guide contains 15 suppliers for phase modulators.

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See also: optical phase, optical modulators, electro-optic modulators, liquid crystal modulators, integrated optics
and other articles in the category photonic devices


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