In a groundbreaking development at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), researchers have achieved a significant milestone in optical imaging technology. The newly developed all-optical complex field imager has the capability to capture both amplitude and phase information of optical fields without the need for digital processing. This innovation holds the promise of revolutionizing various fields, including biomedical imaging, security, sensing, and material science.

Traditional optical imaging technologies have relied on intensity-based sensors that could only capture the amplitude of light, neglecting the crucial phase information. Phase information provides valuable insights into structural properties such as absorption and refractive index distributions, which are essential for detailed sample analysis. Current methods to capture phase information involve complex interferometric or holographic systems accompanied by iterative phase retrieval algorithms, resulting in increased hardware complexity and computational demand.

Led by Professor Aydogan Ozcan, a team at UCLA has developed a novel complex field imager that overcomes these limitations. This innovative device utilizes a series of deep learning-optimized diffractive surfaces to modulate incoming complex fields. These surfaces create two independent imaging channels that transform the amplitude and phase of the input fields into intensity distributions on the sensor plane, eliminating the need for any digital reconstruction algorithms and simplifying the imaging process significantly.

The new complex field imager consists of spatially engineered diffractive surfaces arranged to perform amplitude-to-amplitude and phase-to-intensity transformations. These transformations enable the device to directly measure the amplitude and phase profiles of input complex fields. With a compact optical design spanning approximately 100 wavelengths axially, the imager is highly integrable into existing optical systems.

The researchers validated their designs through 3D-printed prototypes operating in the terahertz spectrum. The experimental results demonstrated a high degree of accuracy, with the output amplitude and phase channel images closely matching numerical simulations. This proof-of-concept demonstration highlights the potential of the complex field imager for real-world applications.

The breakthrough in complex field imaging technology opens up a wide range of applications. In the biomedical field, the imager can be utilized for real-time, non-invasive imaging of tissues and cells, offering critical insights during medical procedures. Its compact and efficient design makes it suitable for integration into endoscopic devices and miniature microscopes, potentially advancing point-of-care diagnostics and intraoperative imaging.

In environmental monitoring, the imager can facilitate the development of portable lab-on-a-chip sensors for rapid detection of microorganisms and pollutants. Its portability and ease of use make it an ideal tool for on-site quantitative analysis, streamlining the process of environmental assessment. Additionally, the complex field imager holds promise for industrial applications, where it can be used for the rapid inspection of materials, aiding in quality control and material analysis.

The development of the all-optical complex field imager represents a significant advancement in the field of optical imaging. By enabling the direct capture of amplitude and phase information without digital processing, this technology simplifies the imaging process and expands the range of potential applications. As the research team continues to refine and expand upon their designs, the impact of this innovation is anticipated to grow, offering new opportunities for scientific research and practical applications across various fields.

Physics

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