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Ray transfer matrix analysis (also known as ABCD matrix analysis) is a type of ray tracing technique

used in the design of some optical systems, particularly lasers. It involves the construction of a ray transfer matrix which describes the optical system; tracing of a light path through the system can then be performed by multiplying this matrix with a vector representing the light ray. The same analysis is also used in accelerator physics to track particles trough the magnet installations of a particle accelerator, see Beam optics. The technique that is described below uses the paraxial approximation of ray optics, which means that all rays are assumed to be at a small angle (θ) and a small distance (x) relative to the optical axis of the system.[1] Definition of the ray transfer matrix: The ray tracing technique is based on two reference planes, called the input and output planes, each perpendicular to the optical axis of the system. Without loss of generality, we will define the optical axis so that it coincides with the z-axis of a fixed coordinate system. A light ray enters the system when the ray crosses the input plane at a distance x1 from the optical axis while traveling in a direction that makes an angle θ1 with the optical axis. Some distance further along, the ray crosses the output plane, this time at a distance x2 from the optical axis and making an angle θ2. n1 and n2 are the indices of refraction of the medium in the input and output plane, respectively. These quantities are related by the expression



This relates the ray vectors at the input and output planes by the ray transfer matrix (RTM) M, which represents the optical system between the two reference planes. A thermodynamics argument based on the blackbody radiation can be used to show that the determinant of a RTM is the ratio of the indices of refraction:

As a result, if the input and output planes are located within the same medium, or within two different media which happen to have identical indices of refraction, then the determinant of M is simply equal to 1. A similar technique can be used to analyze electrical circuits. See Two-port networks. Some examples

For example, if there is free space between the two planes, the ray transfer matrix is given by:

, where d is the separation distance (measured along the optical axis) between the two reference planes. The ray transfer equation thus becomes:

. To describe combinations of optical components. reflection from mirrors. where f is the focal length of the lens. Reflection from a flat mirror Matrix d = distance n1 = initial refractive index Remarks Reflection from a curved mirror R = radius of curvature. with the last matrix premultiplying the second last. R > 0 for convex (centre of curvature after interface) Refraction at a curved interface n1 = initial refractive index n2 = final refractive index. ray transfer matrices may be multiplied together to obtain an overall RTM for the compound optical system. R = radius of curvature. Table of ray transfer matrices for simple optical components Element Propagation in free space or in a medium of constant refractive index Refraction at a flat interface n2 = final refractive index. Note that. and this relates the parameters of the two rays as:  Another simple example is that of a thin lens. R > 0 for convex . Its RTM is given by: . and so on until the first matrix is premultiplied by the second. this is not the same RTM as that for a lens followed by free space: . etc. since the multiplication of matrices is non-commutative. Other matrices can be constructed to represent interfaces with media of different refractive indices. Thus the matrices must be ordered appropriately. For the example of free space of length d followed by a lens of focal length f: .

we can find all ray vectors where the output of each section of the waveguide is equal to the input vector multiplied by some real or complex constant λ: . At its simplest. separated by some distance d. . and . This construction is known as a lens equivalent duct or lens equivalent waveguide.f = focal length of lens where f > 0 for convex/positive (converging) lens. This matrix applies for orthogonal beam exit. d = prism path length. each separated from the next by length d. an optical resonator consists of two identical facing mirrors of 100% reflectivity and radius of curvature R. k = (cos /cos ) is the beam expansion factor. n2 = refractive index of the lens itself (inside the lens). n = refractive index of the prism material. it can be determined under what conditions light travelling down the waveguide will be periodically refocussed and stay within the waveguide. Thin lens Only valid if the focal length is much greater than the thickness of the lens. which is an eigen value equation: Simplifying. as above. we have which leads to the characteristic equation where I is the 2x2 identity matrix. where is the trace of the RTM. For the purposes of ray tracing. where is the angle of incidence. is the angle of refraction. The RTM of each section of the waveguide is. R1 = Radius of curvature of First surface. total thickness would equal t + both curved thickness parts. RTM analysis can now be used to determine the stability of the waveguide (and equivalently. If total thickness is desired. this is equivalent to a series of identical thin lenses of focal length f=R/2. R2 = Radius of curvature of Second surface. such as those used in lasers. This gives: . the resonator). n1 = refractive index outside of the lens. That is. t = thickness of lens (not taking into account thickness of curved parts. To do so. Thick lens Single right angle prism Resonator stability: RTM analysis is particularly useful when modeling the behaviour of light in optical resonators.

If we have a Gaussian beam of wavelength curvature R. As a result. Thus. we have where is the stability parameter. we find After N passes through the system. λN must not grow without limit. radius of Dividing the first equation by the second eliminates the normalisation constant: . It is often convenient to express this last equation in reciprocal form: . where The technique may be generalised for more complex resonators by constructing a suitable matrix M for the cavity from the matrices of the components present. this equation expands as and . beam spot size w and refractive index the determinant of the RTM. Ray transfer matrices for Gaussian beams The matrix formalism is also useful to describe Gaussian beams. Simplifying. From the quadratic formula. The eigen values are the solutions of the characteristic equation. If the waveguide is stable. we have: . This observation implies that λ cannot take on purely real values. where k is a normalisation constant chosen to keep the second component of the ray vector equal to 1. Solving the eigenvalue equation gives us a periodic solution of the form: Or . Using matrix multiplication. or . it is possible to define a complex beam parameter q by: . This beam can be propagated through an optical system with a given ray transfer matrix by using the equation: . but must have a non-zero imaginary part.

where . In the new representation.Transfer-matrix method (optics): For the transfer-matrix method in geometric optics. If the field is known at the beginning of a layer. according to Maxwell's equations. such as in the figure. The final step of the method involves converting the system matrix back into reflection and transmission coefficients. see Ray transfer matrix analysis. Formalism for electromagnetic waves: Below is described how the transfer matrix is applied to electromagnetic waves (for example light) of a given frequency propagating through a stack of layers at normal incidence. see Transfer-matrix method. The transfer-matrix method is a method used in optics and acoustics to analyze the propagation of electromagnetic or acoustic waves through a stratified (layered) medium. Since there are two equations relating and to and . For the transfer-matrix method in statistical physics. when there are multiple interfaces. absorbing media. It can be generalized to deal with incidence at an angle. However. We assume that the stack layers are normal to the axis and that the field within one layer can be represented as the superposition of a left. . which is the product of the individual layer matrices. A stack of layers can then be represented as a system matrix. which is cumbersome to calculate. Because it follows from Maxwell's equation that and to represent the field as the vector . The reflection of light from a single interface between two media is described by the Fresnel equations. these reflections can interfere destructively or constructively. the field at the end of the layer can be derived from a simple matrix operation.and right-traveling wave with wave number . the reflections themselves are also partially transmitted and then partially reflected. The overall reflection of a layer structure is the sum of an infinite number of reflections. Depending on the exact path length. there are simple continuity conditions for the electric field across boundaries from one medium to the next.[1] This is for example relevant for the design of anti-reflective coatings and dielectric mirrors. propagation over a distance into the positive direction is described by the matrix must be continuous across a boundary. it is convenient And . The transfer-matrix method is based on the fact that. and media with magnetic properties. these two representations are equivalent.

the fractions of the incident intensity transmitted and reflected by the layer) are often of more practical use and are given by and .Such a matrix can represent propagation through a layer if layer: For a system with layers. The amplitude reflection coefficient can be simplified to This configuration effectively describes a Fabry–Pérot interferometer or etalon: for vanishes. Example As an illustration. respectively. The has a transfer matrix increases towards higher Typically. the reflection . then we can solve is the wave number in the rightmost medium. If and . On the other side of the layer structure. . each layer system transfer matrix is then is the wave number in the medium and . where the thickness of the values. The transfer matrix is . If the layer stack starts at then for negative . the field consists of a rightpropagating transmitted field . . consider a single layer of glass with a refractive index n and thickness d suspended in air at a wave number k (in air). the wave number in the left medium. The transmittance and reflectance (i. and is the amplitude (not intensity!) reflectance coefficient of the layer structure. in terms of the matrix elements of the system matrix and obtain and . where is the amplitude of the incoming wave. the wave number is ..e. the field is described as . where is the amplitude transmittance and . one would like to know the reflectance and transmittance of the layer structure. In glass.

(ρ(z)) perpendicular to the interface. β is introduced. The resultant matrix is defined as the product of these characteristic matrices . Since the incident neutron beam is refracted by each of the layers the wavevector. by changing the parameters that describe each layer. Abeles matrix formalism: The Abeles matrix method is a computationally fast and easy way to calculate the specular reflectivity from a stratified interface. in layer n. the interfacial structure can often be well approximated by a slab model in which layers of thickness (dn).and sub-phases. A phase factor. is given by: The Fresnel reflection coefficient between layer n and n+1 is then given by: Since the interface between each layer is unlikely to be perfectly smooth the roughness/diffuseness of each interface modifies the Fresnel coefficient and is accounted for by an error function. as described by Nevot and Croce (1980). where . should be used. the displacement u and the stress . In this description the interface is split into n layers. One then uses a refinement procedure to minimise the differences between the theoretical and measured reflectivity curves. The measured reflectivity depends on the variation in the scattering length density (SLD) profile. Instead of the electric field E and its derivative F.n+1) are sandwiched between the super.Acoustic waves: It is possible to apply the transfer-matrix method to sound waves. A characteristic matrix. as a function of the perpendicular momentum transfer. Although the scattering length density profile is normally a continuously varying function. which accounts for the thickness of each layer. scattering length density (ρn) and roughness (σn. cn is then calculated for each layer. Qz. k. where is the p-wave modulus. Application Reflection from a strafied interface Where θ is the angle of incidence/reflection of the incident radiation and λ is the wavelength of the radiation.

The following equation can then be used for calculating how these parameters are modified by an optical element: where the primed quantities (left-hand side) refer to the beam after passing the optical component. Propagation of Gaussian Beams: ABCD matrices can also be used for calculating the effect of optical elements on the parameters of a Gaussian beam. where the lower component (the angle) is multiplied by the refractive index.. Further examples for ABCD matrices are given below. It can be used both in ray optics. The paraxial approximation is always required for ABCD matrix calculations. a thin lens with focal length f has the following ABCD matrix: This shows that the offset r remains unchanged. whereas the beam offset is increasing or decreasing according to the angle. which contains information on both the beam radius w and the radius of curvature R of the wavefronts: The following equation shows how the q parameter is modified by an optical element: .from which the reflectivity is calculated ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------ABCD Matrix: a 2-by-2 matrix describing the effect of an optical element on a laser beam An ABCD matrix or ray matrix [1] is a 2-by-2 matrix associated with an optical element which can be used for describing the element's effect on a laser beam. it is convenient to use a modified kind of beam vectors. Originally. where geometrical rays are propagated. The ABCD matrix is a characteristic of each optical element. whereas the offset angle θ experiences a change in proportion to r. This can somewhat simplify the ABCD matrices for certain situations. there is a linear relation between the r and θ coordinates before and after an optical element. Ray Optics Figure 1: Definition of r and θ before an after an optical system. Propagation through free space over a distance d is associated with the matrix which shows that the angle remains unchanged.e. For situations where beams propagate through dielectric media. For example. i. the involved beam angles or divergence angles must stay small for the calculations to be accurate. the concept was developed for calculating the propagation of geometric rays with some transverse offset r and offset angle θ from a reference axis (Figure 1). A convenient quantity for that purpose is the complex q parameter. As long as the angles involved are small enough (→ paraxial approximation). and for propagating Gaussian beams.

ABCD Matrices of Important Optical Elements: The following list gives the ABCD matrices of frequently used optical elements. Air space with length d: (For propagation in a transparent medium. . which is the matrix product of all the single matrices. this means that the (r θ) vector is subsequently multiplied by various matrices. can be used for calculating the alignment sensitivity of a laser resonator [3]. Instead. involving an ABCDEF matrix (a 3-by-3 matrix with some constant components). incidence angle θ in the horizontal plane: with Re = R cos θ in the tangential plane (horizontal direction) and Re = R / cos θ in the sagittal plane (vertical direction).) Lens with focal length f (where positive f applies for a focusing lens): Curved mirror with curvature radius R (>0 for concave mirror). An extended algorithm. the length n has to be divided by the refractive index. The ABCD matrix method should not be confused with a different matrix method for calculating the reflection and transmission properties of dielectric multilayer coatings. Both the geometric path of a ray and the evolution of the beam radius can be calculated. Note that the first optical element must be on the right-hand side of that product. Typical Applications: Some typical applications of the ABCD matrix algorithm are:    It is often of interest how a laser beam propagates through some optical setup. The transverse resonator modes can then be obtained from the matrix components. a single matrix may be used. Duct: where the radially varying refractive index is: Combining Multiple Optical Elements: If a beam propagates through several optical elements (including any air spaces in between). The changes of beam parameters within one complete round trip in a resonator can be described with an ABCD matrix. if the above mentioned modified definition is used where the lower component (the angle) is multiplied by the refractive index.

For example. The evolution of beam offset (distance from the reference axis) and beam angle in some optical system can then be described with simple ABCD matrices. a second-order differential equation (as obtained from Maxwell's equations) can be replaced with a simple first-order equation. i. the paraxial approximation remains valid as long as divergence angles remain well below 1 rad. The validity of the analysis is then restricted to cases with a sufficiently large effective mode area and sufficiently small divergence of any beams exiting such a waveguide. the local propagation direction of the energy can be identified with a direction normal to the wavefronts (except in situations with spatial walk-off). the paraxial approximation means that the angle θ between such rays and some reference axis of the optical system always remains small. in some laser beam) deviates only slightly from some beam axis.e.e. where commonly used equations such as θ = λ / (π w0) for the divergence angle break down. particularly of optical fibers. For such reasons. it can be assumed that tan θ ≈ sin θ ≈ θ.e. because there are linear relations between offset and angle of beams before and after some optical component or system. . polarization issues also demand special care. The paraxial approximation is very well fulfilled in a wide range of phenomena of laser physics and fiber optics. The propagation modes of waveguides. In that regime. If the paraxial approximation holds. which gives a much simplified understanding of beam propagation and of fundamental limitations such as the minimum beam parameter product. the formalism of Gaussian beams can be derived. are also often investigated based on the paraxial approximation. In particular. the simulation of beam propagation then requires significantly more sophisticated methods. < < 1 rad.g. these propagation directions are all close to some reference axis. but it is clearly violated in cases with very strong focusing. Many calculations in optics can be greatly simplified by making the paraxial approximation. i. essentially assuming small angular deviations of the propagation directions from some beam axis. Essentially. beam propagation methods (propagating a two-dimensional array of complex field amplitudes) can be used which do not need that approximation. polarization components in the propagation direction can occur. Within that approximation. Based on this equation. by assuming that the propagation direction of light (e. Paraxial Approximation in Geometric Optics: Geometric optics (ray optics) describes light propagation in the form of geometric rays. i. This also implies that the beam radius at a beam waist must be much larger than the wavelength. Here. Paraxial Approximation in Wave Optics: When describing light as a wave phenomenon.Praraxial Approximation: a frequently used approximation.