Nanoscale Deformable Optics

This technology has potential applications in medical imaging, robotics, precision machining, and threat detection.

Several missions and instruments in the conceptual design phase rely on the technique of interferometry to create detectable fringe patterns. The intimate emplacement of reflective material upon electron device cells based upon chalcogenide material technology permits high-speed, predictable deformation of the reflective surface to a subnanometer or finer resolution with a very high degree of accuracy.

In this innovation, a layer of reflective material is deposited upon a wafer containing (perhaps in the millions) chalcogenic memory cells with the reflective material becoming the front surface of a mirror and the chalcogenic material becoming a means of selectively deforming the mirror by the application of heat to the chalcogenic material. By doing so, the mirror surface can deform anywhere from nil to nanometers in spots the size of a modern day memory cell, thereby permitting real-time tuning of mirror focus and reflectivity to mitigate aberrations caused elsewhere in the optical system.

Modern foundry methods permit the design and manufacture of individual memory cells having an area of or equal to the Feature (F) size of the design (assume 65 nm). Fabrication rules and restraints generally require the instantiation of one memory cell to another no closer than 1.5 F, or, for this innovation, 90 nm from its neighbor in any direction.

Chalcogenide is a semiconducting glass compound consisting of a combination of chalcogen ions, the ratios of which vary according to properties desired. It has been shown that the application of heat to cells of chalcogenic material cause a large alteration in resistance to the range of 4 orders of magnitude. It is this effect upon which chalcogenide-based commercial memories rely. Upon removal of the heat source, the chalcogenide rapidly cools and remains frozen in the excited state. It has also been shown that the chalcogenide expands in volume because of the applied heat, meaning that the coefficient of expansion of chalcogenic materials is larger than 1.

In this innovation, chalcogenide-based cells are addressed (as though they are a memory), and heated and cooled according to well-established criteria. In doing so, the exact size of chalcogenide cell deformation is known and predictable; therefore, the deformation of the reflective surface is, likewise, known and predictable. Control electronics can also be implemented so that a closed-loop feedback can be maintained. Changing the contents of the chalcogenide memory cells can compensate for any change in environmental effects that might cause a change in optical path. This real-time control provides significant control and stability in use conditions.

This work was done by Karl F. Strauss and Douglas J. Sheldon of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. For more information, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . NPO-46891