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Digital Optics: Teaching with Spatial Light Modulators and Digital Micromirror Devices

University of Wisconsin – River Falls, July 12 - 14, 2019

(2 set-ups available for 4 participants total)

This Immersion aims to share experiences incorporating digital display technologies into instructional labs beyond the first year of university. For example, in our traditional Junior-level Optics course, these technologies are only incorporated after a series of “prequel” activities, starting with qualitative observation of aberrations, using hand-held lenses, then "walking a laser" through "cloned apertures" on an optical breadboard, and "optical cloaking" as a means of teaching ABCD matrices. Students disassemble "broken" classroom projectors (which our university donates to the teaching labs as they are removed from active service), and use diffraction to find the "filling fraction" of the Spatial Light Modulators (SLMs) contained within these displays, and compare those to (much more useful) educational SLMs available from Jasper Display Corp., and to low-cost Digital Micromirror Devices (DMDs). The educational SLMs are not just for computer-generated Holograms (though that’s part of the attraction for students); they are useful for teaching Fourier Optics, as well as for dynamic Aberration Correction, teaching about Laser Modes, and encoding information, the linear momentum, spin angular momentum, and orbital angular momentum of light beams, complementing an introduction to single-photon quantum mechanics, including "Ghost Imaging," where the photons incident upon the detecting camera have never interacted with the object imaged (by exploiting correlations that are required by simple principles: conservation of energy and conservation of momentum.)

Estimated cost:  One of the systems in use during this Immersion is the Jasper Display SLM Education Kit ( )  which costs approximately $5000.  Other SLMs are available, and can even be obtained from old projectors.

Host and Mentor:

  Gabe Spalding is a Professor of Physics at Illinois Wesleyan University.

Gabe Spalding, Illinois Wesleyan University, Email:

Please note that the Jonathan F. Reichert Foundation has established a grant program to help purchase apparatus used in Laboratory Immersions. Limitations and exclusions apply, but generally speaking the foundation may support up to 40% of the cost of the required equipment. FPGAs are likely excluded; however, apparatus controlled by an FPGA might be supported.

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