Liquid crystal research at LLE: a 35-Year Journey from Information Deisplays to Laser Fusion and Beyond
Ken Marshall, Laboratory for Laser Energetics, University of Rochester
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Liquid crystal (LC) technology has experienced explosive growth from its humble origins as an unimportant laboratory curiosity discovered in 1888 to today’s multibillion-dollar information display industry spawned by the invention of the twisted nematic LC display in the 1970’s. The inherent anisotropy in the optical and physical properties of LC’s, the ability to tune these properties through molecular design and chemical synthesis, the development of cost-effective and scalable methods for manufacturing LC optics with high optical quality and contrast, and their remarkable resistance to laser-induced damage have made LC’s of considerable interest for numerous challenging applications in optics and photonics. A singularly significant example is the application of LC’s in passive circular polarizers and wave plates for beam line polarization control in the 60-beam, 40-TW OMEGA Nd:glass laser system at the University of Rochester’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics (LLE). This solid-state glass laser system, used to support the U.S. Department of Energy’s Inertial Confinement Fusion (ICF) and High-Energy-Density (HED) physics research missions, contains more than 365 large-aperture (100- to 200-mm dia.) LLE-fabricated LC devices and represents a 30-year track record of proven performance for the technology. Many of these LC devices have been in continuous service on OMEGA for over 15 years without suffering degradation in their performance.
Following a brief introduction to structure–property relationships in LC materials, an account of the history and events that led to the development of passive LC optics for OMEGA will be presented, along with an overview of past and current LLE research to design and develop LC materials for active and passive devices (tunable/switchable polarizers, optical modulators, polarization rotators/converters, vortex polarizers, laser beam deflectors and beam amplitude/phase shapers) for both tabletop photonics and high-peak-power laser applications ranging from the near-UV to the mid-IR spectral regions. An overview of past and current computational chemistry activities targeted toward new materials design and development will also be presented, along with a view of the road ahead leading to new applications frontiers for next-generation LC materials and devices currently under development.
About the speaker
Mr. Kenneth L. Marshall has been involved in the design and development of liquid crystal materials and devices since 1972. He joined LLE in November of 1984, following 12 years of industrial experience in LC materials design, synthesis and LCD manufacturing under the direction of the late James L. Fergason, the inventor of the twisted nematic LC display technology. As a Senior Research Engineer and head of the Optical Materials Laboratory, Mr. Marshall directs and conducts research in organic optical materials and liquid crystals for applications in optics, photonics and high-peak-power lasers, and served as Acting Group Leader for Optical Materials Technologies from July 2014 to May 2017. He has authored over 60 publications, holds over 10 patents, has conducted contract research on LC materials and device applications for the US Army, Navy, Air Force and NASA, served as a peer reviewer for numerous journals in optics, physical chemistry and liquid crystals, and has been a Program or Organizing Committee member for several international conferences (most recently, SPIE Optics and Photonics Liquid Crystals XXIV). He also has been a consultant for numerous companies including Corning, Inc., Physical Optics Corp, Zygo Corp, and Eastman Kodak Company. Mr. Marshall is a Senior Member of both SPIE and OSA, and a member of the American Chemical Society.