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Recirculation of Laser Power in an Atomic Fountain

Optical and electronic subsystems of a frequency standard can be simplified.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California

A new technique for laser-cooling atoms in a cesium atomic fountain frequency standard relies on recirculation of laser light through the atom-collection region of the fountain. The recirculation, accomplished by means of reflections from multiple fixed beam-splitter cubes, is such that each of two laser beams makes three passes. As described below, this recirculation scheme offers several advantages over prior designs, including simplification of the laser system, greater optical power throughput, fewer optical and electrical connections, and simplification of beam power balancing.

A typical laser-cooled cesium fountain requires the use of six laser beams arranged as three orthogonal pairs of counter-propagating beams to decelerate the atoms and hold them in a three-dimensional optical trap in vacuum. Typically, these trapping/cooling beams are linearly polarized and are positioned and oriented so that (1) counter-propagating beams in each pair have opposite linear polarizations and (2) three of the six orthogonal beams have the sum of their propagation directions pointing up, while the other three have the sum of their propagation directions pointing down.

In a typical prior design, two lasers are used — one to generate the three “up” beams, the other to generate the three “down” beams. For this purpose, the output of each laser is split three ways, then the resulting six beams are delivered to the vacuum system, independently of each other, via optical fibers.

The present recirculating design also requires two lasers, but the beams are not split before delivery. Instead, only one “up” beam and one oppositely polarized “down” beam are delivered to the vacuum system, and each of these beams is sent through the collection region three times. The polarization of each beam on each pass through the collection region is set up to yield the same combination of polarization and propagation directions as described above.

In comparison with the prior design, the present recirculating design utilizes the available laser light more efficiently, making it possible to trap more atoms at a given laser power or the same number of atoms at a lower laser power. The present design is also simpler in that it requires fewer optical fibers, fiber couplings, and collimators, and fewer photodiodes for monitoring beam powers. Additionally, the present design alleviates the difficulty of maintaining constant ratios among power levels of the beams within each “up” or “down” triplet.

This work was done by Daphna G. Enzer, William M. Klipstein, and James D. Moore of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. NPO-41202