How the PSM caught a potential problem

Recently a customer was using the Point Source Microscope (PSM) to align a slow, singlet objective lens and find its focus. 

The customer had a plane retro mirror behind the objective and should have seen a nice round spot at best focus. Instead, he saw a vertical line image as in the following screen shot of the PSM computer display.

The customer knew the PSM was working correctly because he did get a small, round image when he focused at the center of a good grade steel ball. He also knew the lens was correctly aligned to the PSM because he had used the PSM in the autocollimator mode and had reflections from both sides of the lens centered on the PSM electronic crosshairs.

When he did decenter the PSM and looked at the reflected image on a white card he saw a line image. In addition, when he tried to refocus over a 25 mm range he could not find a circle of least confusion. All this pointed to a severely astigmatic return wavefront since the lens was from a trusted vendor. The test set up is shown in the picture below. The rear of the PSM is in the foreground and the objective is at the far end of the optical table with an undersized plane mirror behind it.

I suggested that it might be the small, plane retro return mirror was not flat because the mount was squeezing it. He assumed this was not the case but said he would check.

Not long after I got an email with this picture showing the great improvement in the image after remounting the return mirror.

Clearly, the problem is not completely solved, but the image is many times better than before and the source of the problem isolated. The PSM laser diode source is in the maximum intensity mode that makes the image larger than it should be due to saturated pixels in the camera, and there is still some astigmatism in the wavefront or the spot would be round. The red line just under the horizontal line image is 100 μm long for scale. The lens was about 2 m from the PSM so the roughly 250 μm long image has an angular width of about 5 seconds of arc. The height of the image is slightly more than one would expect due to diffraction.

This is just one example of how the PSM can spot a problem in a test set up before the problem becomes serious. The problem might be serious due to the time it takes to track down its source, or if the problem is not fixed, the issues it will create farther downstream if not corrected at the source.

About the Author

Robert Parks

Robert Parks

Mr. Parks received a BA and MA in physics from Ohio Wesleyan University and Williams College, respectively. His career started at Eastman Kodak Company as an optical engineer and then went on to Itek Corp. as an optical test engineer.

He learned about optical fabrication during a 4 year stay at Frank Cooke, Inc. This experience led to a position as manager of the optics shop at the College of Optical Sciences at the Univ. of Arizona and where he worked for 12 years and had a title of Assistant Research Professor. During that time he had the opportunity to write about the projects in the shop and the optical fabrication and testing techniques used there including papers about absolute testing and the installation and used of a 5 m swing precision optical generator.

Mr. Parks left the University in 1989 to start a consulting business specializing in optical fabrication and testing. Among the consulting projects was one working for the Allen Board of Investigation for the Hubble Telescope where he stayed in residence at HDOS for the duration of the investigation. In 1992 he formed Optical Perspectives Group, LLC as a partnership with Bill Kuhn, then a PhD student at Optical Sciences.

The consulting and experience with Optical Perspectives provided many more opportunities to publish work on optical test methods and applications. While still at Optical Sciences, Mr. Parks became involved in standards work and for twenty years was one of the US representatives to the ISO Technical Committee 172 on Optics and Optical Instruments. For two years he was the Chairman of the ISO Subcommittee 1 for Fundamental Optical standards. Recently Mr. Parks temporarily rejoined Optical Sciences part time helping support optical fabrication projects and teaching as part of the Opto-Mechanics program.

Bob is a member of the Optical Society of America, a Fellow and past Board member of SPIE and a member and past President of the American Society for Precision Engineering. He is author or co-author of well over 100 papers and articles about optical fabrication and testing, and co-inventor on 6 US patents. He remains active in development of new methods of optical testing and alignment.

Case Studies & Testimonials

  • "You are always responsive and give us lots of useful information!!"

    Dr. Shaojie Chen
    Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics
    University of Toronto


  • "As always we are very much loving the instrument, I personally love the camera upgrade from what I'm used to!"

    Weslin Pullen
    Hart Scientific Consulting International, LLC
    Tucson, Arizona


  • The PSM is an ideal tool for finding the center of curvature of a ball or the axis of a cylinder. The question is for how small a ball or cylinder can the PSM do this?

    The smallest article that was readily available was a piece of monofilament 8 pound test fishing line that was 290 μm in diameter. There was no problem finding the axis of the fishline, and separating the Cat’s eye reflection from the surface from the confocal reflection of the axis. The experiment was done with a 5x objective, and the result would have been even more definitive using a 10x objective.

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