Several easily implemented devices for doing ultrasensitive optical measurements with noisy lasers are presented. They are all-electronic noise cancellation circuits that largely eliminate excess laser intensity noise as a source of measurement error and are widely applicable. Shot-noise-limited optical measurements can now easily be made at baseband with noisy lasers. These circuits are especially useful in situations where strong intermodulation effects exist, such as current-tuned diode laser spectroscopy. These inexpensive devices (parts cost ≈$10) can be optimized for particular applications such as wideband or differential measurements. Although they cannot eliminate phase noise effects, they can reduce amplitude noise by 55–70 dB or more, even in unattended operation, and usually achieve the shot-noise limit. With 1-Hz signal-to-noise ratios of 150–160 dB, they allow performance equal or superior to a complex heterodyne system in many cases, while using much simpler dual-beam or homodyne approaches. Although these devices are related to earlier differential and ratiometric techniques, their noise cancellation performance is much better. They work well at modulation frequencies from dc to several megahertz and should be extensible to ≈100 MHz. The circuits work by subtracting photocurrents directly, with feedback applied outside the signal path to continuously adjust the subtraction for perfect balance; thus the excess noise and spurious modulation ideally cancel at all frequencies, leaving only the shot noise. The noise cancellation bandwidth is independent of the feedback bandwidth; it depends only on the speeds of the photodiodes and of the bipolar junction transistors used. Two noise-canceled outputs are available; one is a high-pass filtered voltage proportional to the signal photocurrent and the other is a low-pass filtered voltage related to the log ratio of the signal and comparison photocurrents. For reasonable current densities, the noise floors of the outputs depend only on the shot noise of the signal beam. Four variations on the basic circuit are presented: low noise floor, high cancellation, differential high power, and ratio-only. Emphasis is placed on the detailed operation and design considerations, especially performance extension by compensation of the nonideal character of system components. Experience has shown that some applications advice is required by most users, so that is provided as well.
© 1997 Optical Society of America
Original Manuscript: April 30, 1996
Published: February 1, 1997
Philip C. D. Hobbs, "Ultrasensitive laser measurements without tears," Appl. Opt. 36, 903-920 (1997)