A team of researchers in China—drawing inspiration from the kaleidoscope, a toy familiar to generations of novelty-shop visitors—has developed a new technique for tweaking and engineering the mirror symmetry of polarization in structured optical fields (APL Photon., doi: 10.1063/1.5117269). The researchers believe that the adjustable symmetries and geometries of these polarization states, which the team has dubbed kaleidoscope-structured vector optical fields (KS–VOFs), offer an “additional degree of freedom” that could find use in applications in optical machining, trapping, photodetection and microscopy.
Vector optical fields (VOFs) including spatially varying polarization have already been extensively studied by the optical community. Further, it’s well known that the polarization states of these fields generally include some sort of mirror symmetry. What’s been lacking, according to the authors of the new study—including first author Yue Pan of Qufu Normal University and team leader and OSA Life Member Hui-Tian Wang of Nanjing University—has been a way to arbitrarily create and tune these symmetries in VOFs. Finding such a method would open up a new control knob for shaping fields for a variety of optical tools.