The science behind optical standards writing

Writing optical standards may appear to be rather mundane work, but it is actually full of fundamental science, with plenty of real physics in what seems to be simply applied optics. This month we will illustrate some of the problems involved, using the roughness of optically polished surfaces as an example. The performance of most optical systems depends critically on the roughness or texture of the optical surface in the system. Surfaces that are not smooth enough can scatter light from bright, off axis sources into the image plane causing loss of resolution. Similarly, scattered light in laser cavities can cause wavelength drifts affecting laser gyro and isotope separation efficiencies. Surface roughness also leads to damage in high power laser systems.

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