Liquid crystal lasers are dye-doped distributed feedback lasing systems. Fabricated by coupling the periodic structure of a liquid crystal medium with a fluorescent dye, the emission from these systems is tunable by controlling the liquid crystal system—be it through electric or thermal field effects, photochemical reactions, mechanical deformations, etc. The laser action arises from an extended interaction time between the radiation field, the laser emission, and the matter field, the periodic liquid crystal medium, at the edge of the photonic band gap.
In this thesis, several tunable liquid crystal laser systems are investigated: cholesteric liquid crystals, holographic-polymer dispersed liquid crystals and liquid crystal polarization gratings. The primary focus has been to fabricate systems that are tunable through electrical means, as applications requiring mechanical or thermal changes are often difficult to control.
Cholesteric liquid crystal lasers are helical Bragg reflectors, with a band gap for circularly polarized light of equivalent handedness to their helix. These materials were doped with a laser dye and laser emission was observed. The use of an in-plane electric field tends to unwind the helical pitch of the film and in doing so tunable emission was demonstrated for ∼15 nm.
Holographic-polymer dispersed liquid crystals (H-PDLCs) are grating structures consisting of alternating layers of polymer and liquid crystal, with different indices of refraction. The application of an electric field index matches these layers and switches off the grating. Thus, laser emission can be switched on and off through the use of an electric field. Spatially tunable H-PDLC lasers were fabricated by creating chirped gratings, formed by divergent beams. The emission was shown to tune ∼5 nm as the pump beam was translated across a 1 inch film.
Liquid crystal polarization gratings use photo-patterned alignment layers, through a polarization holography exposure, to induce an alignment in a liquid crystal film. Electrically tunable emission was demonstrated in these systems.
Applications of liquid crystal lasers include emissive substrates or backplanes for displays or tunable emission sources for biology and medicine. The potential for such applications are discussed.