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Jeff Kondziela, Product Line Manager, EXFO Burleigh Products Group

When considering a laser spectrum analyzer (LSA), choosing the right unit can be a daunting task. A better understanding of LSA components
and the technology behind them not only facilitates the decision process, it will also allow you to get maximum value after installation.

EXFO Burleigh Products Group (formerly Burleigh Instruments) has been refining its expertise in Fabry-Perot interferometry since 1972,
developing a unique family of laser spectrum analyzers that precisely characterize the spectral features of virtually any continuous wave (CW)
laser source. Our continual fine-tuning of the Fabry-Perot interferometer design has resulted in laser spectrum analyzers that offer exceptional
resolution measurements of laser linewidth, longitudinal mode structure and frequency stability*.

In order to help you find the type of instrument that best fits your requirements, this application note describes the components that make up
a laser spectrum analyzer, as well as the technology designed into them.

A Complete Laser Spectrum Analyzer System

EXFO’s laser spectrum analyzers are, in fact, complete systems that include all the components necessary for routine operation, greatly
simplifying laser spectral analysis. The only other equipment that is required is an oscilloscope to view the output.

Four items are necessary to perform routine laser spectral analysis (Figure 1):

Fabry-Perot interferometer
Interferometer mount
Ramp generator

Figure 1. EXFO laser spectrum analyzer systems include all the required components.

* For a more comprehensive, detailed description of the theory behind Fabry-Perot interferometry,
see EXFO Application Note 094: Accurately Measure Laser Spectral Characteristics
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A) Fabry-Perot Interferometer (SA-91, TL-15)

The Fabry-Perot interferometer, or etalon assembly, generates the interference pattern that is characteristic of the spectral features of the
laser under test. A simple device that relies on the interference of multiple beams, the Fabry-Perot interferometer consists of two partially
transmitting mirrors precisely aligned to form a reflective cavity. Incident light enters the Fabry-Perot cavity and undergoes multiple
reflections between the mirrors so that the light interferes with itself many times.

If the frequency of the incident light is such that constructive interference occurs within the Fabry-Perot cavity, the light will be transmitted
(Figure 2). Otherwise, destructive interference will not allow any light through the Fabry-Perot interferometer.

Figure 2. Standing wave within a Fabry-Perot cavity allows for constructive interference.

There are two common designs for scanning Fabry-Perot interferometers. The designs are defined by the type of mirrors that are used to
form the interferometer cavity. One design uses plano-mirrors, represented by EXFO’s TL series; the other design uses confocal mirrors,
represented by the SAPlus system.

Confocal Mirror Design

The confocal mirror Fabry-Perot interferometer is a special type of spherical mirror system that uses a pair of concave mirrors whose radii of
curvature are equal to their separation, resulting in a common focus (Figure 3).

Figure 3. The path of incident light in a confocal mirror Fabry-Perot interferometer.

In confocal mirror systems, high finesse is achieved easily for two reasons. First, the focusing of the incident beam reduces possible finesse
degradation due to mirror surface imperfections. Second, the common focus of the mirrors results in a simple alignment procedure.
The only limitation of a confocal mirror system is that its free spectral range (FSR) is fixed by the radii of curvature of the mirrors.
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Plano-Mirror Design
The plano-mirror Fabry-Perot interferometer uses a pair of very flat mirrors, precisely aligned parallel to each other. The primary advantage of
such a design is that it provides a variable FSR because there are no restrictions on the distance by which plano-mirrors can be separated.

Choosing the Right Materials

Pay particular attention to the materials used in a Fabry-Perot interferometer, as their selection is based on thermal and mechanical properties.
To ensure system stability, the bodies of EXFO Fabry-Perot interferometers are constructed of low thermal expansion Invar, which allows
extremely stable performance over a wide temperature range.

Spectral scanning of the interferometer is generated by a piezoelectric (PZT) transducer attached to one of the interferometer’s mirrors.
Applying a ramp voltage to the PZT transducer very precisely changes the physical separation of the mirrors, resulting in a controlled change
to the interference condition of the interferometer.

The precision with which the mirror is scanned depends on the linearity of the material used in the PZT. The precise adjustments possible with
EXFO Fabry-Perot interferometers are due to the superior linearity (> 99 %) of the low thermal expansion PZT material used.

In plano-mirror systems, alignment of the interferometer cavity is critical. Therefore, three independent PZT transducers are needed. They are
arranged symmetrically around one of the mirrors and are driven either independently to tilt the mirror for precise cavity alignment, or
synchronously to scan the mirror cavity. Since alignment of the confocal mirror interferometer is not as critical, a single PZT transducer is
used to scan the mirror cavity.

Mirror Reflectivity
As might be expected, the reflectivity of the mirrors in a Fabry-Perot interferometer is important, as is the wavelength range. Both the quality
and the wavelength range are determined by coatings applied to the surface of the mirrors.

The mirrors used in EXFO’s laser spectrum analyzers are highly reflective (> 99 %) over a specific wavelength range. To achieve such high
reflectivity, a multilayer dielectric coating is applied to the mirror surface and an anti-reflection coating is applied to the rear surface of the
mirror. For confocal mirrors, rugged hard coatings maintain the highest level of performance over the long lifetime of the mirrors. For plano-
mirrors, since the process of applying hard dielectric coatings has the potential to reduce the mirror flatness (λ/50), a soft dielectric coating
is used instead.

The interferometer mirrors in EXFO systems operate over popular wavelength ranges or can be customized to operate at a specific
wavelength. The mirrors of the interferometer can be changed easily, providing maximum flexibility. They are permanently mounted in Invar cells
that allow convenient handling and reduce the chance of mirror damage while they are being replaced.

B) Interferometer Mount (SA-900)

The interferometer mount holds the Fabry-Perot interferometer and allows adjustments to precisely align the input laser beam for optimum
performance. Aligning the laser beam to the optical axis of the interferometer is critical to ensure that the transmission properties of the
interferometer do not depend on any angular effects. The design of the interferometer mount is the key to convenient adjustments and high-
quality results.
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EXFO laser spectrum analyzers include a custom alignment mount with four degrees of freedom (Figure 4). Alignment of the interferometer
in X, Y, θ and φ is simple using the high-resolution adjustment knobs.

EXFO’s alignment mount also contains a removable aperture to limit the size of the laser beam entering the interferometer. Using a smaller
beam minimizes the effects of mirror surface irregularities and/or spherical aberration, which can decrease the finesse of the system.
In addition, an FC-style fiber-optic input simplifies the coupling of a laser beam into the interferometer.

Figure 4. SA-900 four-axis mount.

C) Ramp Generator (RG-91, RG-93)

The third basic component, the ramp generator, provides the voltage required to piezoelectrically scan the Fabry-Perot interferometer.
Two types are available: single-channel and triple-channel.

Single-channel ramp generators provide the voltage required for single piezoelectric transducers in confocal systems such as the SAPlus
interferometer. EXFO’s RG-91 system provides convenient controls to adjust the range, zero offset and rate of the ramp voltage.

Three-channel ramp generators provide the voltage required for three piezoelectric transducers in plano-mirror systems such as the TL
interferometer. In addition to scan controls, EXFO’s RG-93 provides three independent DC bias signals for fine-tuning the mirror alignment
that is required for plano-mirror interferometers. The slope of the ramp for the three output channels also can be adjusted independently to
ensure tilt-free scanning.

In many laser spectral analysis applications, a linear ramp is sufficient because the non-linearity of the piezoelectric transducer is small.
Both the RG-91 and the RG-93 systems generate a ramp voltage that is extremely linear. Deviation from an ideal ramp wavelength is less
than 0.25 %, between 10 % and 90 % of the maximum voltage output.

However, the piezoelectric scan of a laser spectrum analyzer is, in effect, the frequency scale of the output display. Therefore, for more
demanding applications, it is important that the piezoelectric scan have the highest degree of linearity for the most precise measurements.
For such cases, EXFO ramp generators include an adjustment to shape the ramp voltage and correct for the inherent non-linear motion of the
piezoelectric transducer. With this correction, the < 1 % non-linearity of the piezoelectric scan can be improved to better than 0.1 %.
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To further enhance the performance of EXFO’s laser spectrum analyzers, both ramp generators use a fixed ramp voltage rounding at the ramp
turning points to limit mechanical shock to the scanning mirror. Eliminating such mechanical resonance maximizes performance by allowing
smooth, controlled acceleration of the scanning mirror.

D) Detector/Amplifier (DA-100)
As the name implies, the detector/amplifier system detects the laser light transmitted through the laser spectrum analyzer, then amplifies the
signal for display on an oscilloscope. When considering a laser spectrum analyzer, important points to note are the sensitivity of the detector
and the range of acceptable wavelengths.

The detector/amplifier system used with EXFO laser spectrum analyzers is available with a choice of interchangeable photodetectors for use
with visible to infrared wavelengths. Its superior, low-noise performance detects signals as low as 1 nW to minimize the laser intensity required
for laser spectral analysis.

For convenience, the detector assembly mounts magnetically to the rear of the Fabry-Perot interferometer. This allows continuous monitoring
of the spectral output while making adjustments to optimize the performance of the laser spectrum analyzer.

Choosing a Laser Spectrum Analyzer

Armed with an understanding of the design differences in laser spectrum analyzers, let’s put that knowledge to use. The first step in
determining which laser spectrum analyzer is best suited for a particular application is to identify the general characteristics of the laser source
to be analyzed. With this information, FSR and finesse can be considered two of the most important characteristics of a Fabry-Perot
interferometer-based laser spectrum analyzer (Figure 5).

Figure 5. Typical transmission pattern of Fabry-Perot interferometer.

FSR is the interferometer’s spectral measurement window or the frequency bandwidth over which it is possible to measure without
overlapping different interference orders. Therefore, to obtain meaningful measurements, the FSR must be greater than the spectral bandwidth
of the laser under test. The general rule of thumb is that the FSR should be at least twice the laser’s spectral bandwidth. At the same time,
for the highest resolution measurements, the FSR should be as small as possible.
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Finesse is a dimensionless value used to quantify the performance of a Fabry-Perot interferometer. A higher finesse value indicates a greater
number of interfering beams, resulting in a more complete interference process and therefore higher resolution measurements.
The relationship between finesse, the laser spectrum analyzer’s spectral resolution (Δν) and the minimum resolvable bandwidth is represented
by the equation:

Δν = FSR/Finesse

This application note was created to provide a general overview of the components of a laser spectrum analyzer, allowing you to make an
informed decision. Furthermore, the Appendix below contains a summary of EXFO LSA specifications as well as brief product descriptions.
With this information in hand, it will be easier to determine the right instrument for your applications. If you have any questions about the
technology, the components or the products in this application note, feel free to contact us at; we will be happy to share our
expertise with you.
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SAPlus Series Laser Spectrum Analyzer
EXFO’s SAPlus laser spectrum analyzer combines high-performance CW laser spectral characterization and user-friendly design for the utmost
precision, ease of use and convenience. The SAPlus laser spectrum analyzer is the best system available to measure the linewidth, longitudinal
mode structure and frequency stability of narrow band lasers. For additional information and product specifications on the SAPlus, visit

TL Series Laser Spectrum Analyzer

EXFO’s TL Series laser spectrum analyzer provides the most convenient spectral characterization of lasers with large bandwidths or a wide
range of frequencies such as laser diodes. With a variable FSR of 15 to 1500 GHz, the TL Series easily measures the spectral features of
virtually any laser operating at wavelengths from 450 nm to 3.5 μm. With a finesse greater than 150, the TL system provides the highest
resolution available. For additional information and product specifications on the TL Series, visit

EXFO Laser Spectrum Analyzer Quick Reference Guide

Model FSR Finesse Resolution Wavelengths Available

SAPlus Series 2 GHz or 8 GHZ 200 or 300 Up to 7 MHz 450 nm to 1.8 mm
or up to 27 MHz (standard ranges)
TL Series 15 to 1500 GHz 150 Up to 100 MHz 450 nm to 3.5 mm
(discretely variable) (custom ranges)

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Appnote099.2AN © 2005 EXFO Electro-Optical Engineering Inc. All rights reserved. Printed in Canada 05/05