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June 11, 2018
Sparks, MD—An Acousto-Optic Modulator (AOM) made by the Brimrose Corporation of America is now being implemented by NASA as part of a new facility known as the Cold Atom Laboratory (CAL) on the International Space Station (ISS).

“We are delighted that our acousto-optic modulator was selected by NASA for this important mission,” said Dr. Jolanta Soos, Brimrose’s Chief Technology Officer. “It is another example of how we customize our A-O devices for various applications so that they can be used throughout the world and on into space.” (A photo of the modulator is included at the end of this press release.)).

The Cold Atom Laboratory was developed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and already has begun operating on the ISS. It will provide scientists with an improved set of tools for probing the realm of quantum mechanics, which is the study of nature at the very smallest scale.).

The AOM is considered to be the key component inside CAL for manipulating the atoms for interferometry, according to James Kellogg, CAL Engineer of Lasers and Optics at the Jet Propulsion Lab. It is a fiber-coupled, solid-state device that can tune laser light to very specific frequencies while switching on and off in less than 100 nanoseconds. Brimrose also makes a free space version of the AOM.).

The CAL facility will produce clouds of ultra-cooled atoms called Bose-Einstein Condensates (BEC). These are chilled to a fraction of a degree above absolute zero, or even colder than the average temperature of deep space. The atoms in a BEC demonstrate quantum characteristics at relatively large-size scales, allowing researchers to explore this strange domain with greater understanding.).

To reach these ultra-cold temperatures, the CAL uses a three-step process. First, lasers are used to corral the atoms and slow them down, stealing their energy and reducing the temperature to approximately 100 microKelvin. This step is completed with a device called a magneto-optical trap. The cooled atoms are then help in a “magnetic trap” that causes the warmest atoms in the cloud to separate from the cooler atoms; radio waves then push the warm atoms away, reducing the cloud’s overall temperature to less than 1 microKelvin. Thirdly, the cloud’s natural expansion causes the temperature to drop further (this is called adiabatic expansion) into the 100 picoKelvin range.).

In one year, the CAL instrument is expected to be fitted by astronauts with a new atom trapping cell that is currently being designed to deliver the AOM light pulses to the atoms.).

Brimrose has been making A-O Modulators and related components for more than 30 years. The modulators are used to control laser beam intensity, frequency modulation, frequency shifting, to control pulses and more. The AOMs are offered with conduction and water-cooled enclosures. Brimrose AOMs are offered from the ultraviolet to LWIR wavelength ranges for low and high optical power applications. They cover frequency ranges from just a few MHz up to 3.5 GHz. (For more information, contact Jan Kasprzak at jkasprzak@brimrose.com or call 410-472-7070).).

Below is a fiber-coupled version of the A-O Modulator:

Fiber-coupled A-O Modulator