Liquid CrystalsDecember, 2002
Liquid crystal optics have provided LLE with substantial cost and performance advantages over the years. Their unique molecular ordering gives rise to characteristic and colorful textures of great beauty when they are observed under a polarizing optical microscope.
The Laboratory for Laser Energetics was the first to demonstrate that liquid crystal (LC) fluids similar to those used in watch, calculator, and computer displays can be used as an economical alternative to costly and fragile optical elements made from quartz or mica used in high-power lasers. Over 200 large-aperture, damage-resistant LC polarizers and wave plates have been fabricated at LLE and can be found installed at numerous locations in the OMEGA laser. Because liquid crystals possess a more highly ordered structure than conventional optical materials, they can produce much larger optical effects over much shorter path lengths (tens of microns). And unlike conventional optical elements, LC optics can be disassembled, repaired and returned to the system in the rare and unlikely event that they undergo laser damage
Along with providing practical solutions, our research activities in liquid crystal device applications and materials development over the past 18 years have also provided LLE with a collection of unique and beautiful photomicrographs of liquid crystalline textures under polarized light. Some of our favorite photomicrographs from LLE’s Materials Laboratory are shown below.