Optical oscillators that exploit resonantly enhanced four-wave mixing in nonlinear whispering-gallery-mode (WGM) resonators are under investigation for potential utility as low-power, ultra-miniature sources of stable, spectrally pure microwave signals. There are numerous potential uses for such oscillators in radar systems, communication systems, and scientific instrumentation.

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This Laboratory Setup was used to demonstrate the basic principle of generating a microwave signal in a low-threshold hyperparametric process.
The resonator in an oscillator of this type is made of a crystalline material that exhibits cubic Kerr nonlinearity, which supports the four-photon parametric process also known as four-wave mixing. The oscillator can be characterized as all-optical in the sense that the entire process of generation of the microwave signal takes place within the WGM resonator. The resonantly enhanced four-wave mixing yields coherent, phase-modulated optical signals at frequencies governed by the resonator structure. The frequency of the phase-modulation signal, which is in the microwave range, equals the difference between the frequencies of the optical signals; hence, this frequency is also governed by the resonator structure. Hence, further, the microwave signal is stable and can be used as a reference signal.

The figure schematically depicts the apparatus used in a proof-of-principle experiment. Linearly polarized pump light was generated by an yttrium aluminum garnet laser at a wavelength of 1.32 μm. By use of a 90:10 fiber-optic splitter and optical fibers, some of the laser light was sent into a delay line and some was transmitted to one face of glass coupling prism, that, in turn, coupled the laser light into a crystalline CaF2 WGM disk resonator that had a resonance quality factor (Q) of 6 × 109. The output light of the resonator was collected via another face of the coupling prism and a single-mode optical fiber, which transmitted the light to a 50:50 fiber-optic splitter. One output of this splitter was sent to a slow photodiode to obtain a DC signal for locking the laser to a particular resonator mode. The other output of this splitter was combined with the delayed laser signal in another 50:50 fiber-optic splitter used as a combiner. The output of the combiner was fed to a fast photodiode that demodulated light and generated microwave signal.

In this optical configuration, the resonator was incorporated into one arm of a Mach-Zehnder interferometer, which was necessary for the following reasons: It was found that when the output of the resonator was sent directly to a fast photodiode, the output of the photodiode did not include a measurable microwave signal. However, when the resonator was placed in an arm of the interferometer and the delay in the other arm was set at the correct value, the microwave signal appeared. Such behavior is distinctly characteristic of phase-modulated light.

The phase-modulation signal had a frequency of about 8 GHz, corresponding to the free spectral range of the resonator. The spectral width of this microwave signal was less than 200 Hz. The threshold pump power for generating the microwave signal was about 1 mW. It would be possible to reduce the threshold power by several orders of magnitude if resonators could be made from crystalline materials in dimensions comparable to those of microresonators heretofore made from fused silica.

This work was done by Lute Maleki, Andrey Matsko, Anatoliy Savchenkov, and Dmitry Strekalov of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

In accordance with Public Law 96-517, the contractor has elected to retain title to this invention. Inquiries concerning rights for its commercial use should be addressed to:

Innovative Technology Assets Management
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Refer to NPO-41074.