In brief

Adding Fabry-Perot nanocavities to the liquid crystal layers in SLMs helps reduce their thickness and improve the resolution of 3D images they project.

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How to create crystal clear holograms

25 Jan 2023

By working on the next wave of high-resolution liquid crystal projectors, A*STAR researchers pave the way for better virtual reality hardware.

Augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and hyper-realistic holograms are hurtling from the realm of science fiction into life. Just as wildly popular AR games like Pokemon Go and VR headsets have solidified the technology as a fun addition to daily life, so too could life-like talking holograms, such as those of Star Wars fame, conceivably replace video calls within our lifetimes.

However, experts say this development is held back by current hologram-projecting headset technologies. Most AR headsets project images using spatial light modulators (SLMs) which are limited by their relatively large pixel sizes resulting in low-resolution and small fields of view.

“This limitation is particularly crucial for applications such as 3D holographic displays where field of view is of fundamental importance to achieve good user experience,” explained Principal Investigator Arseniy Kuznetsov from A*STAR’s Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE).

To that end, Kuznetsov and his team explored a new strategy for enhancing SLM performance: shrinking their liquid crystal layers with Fabry-Perot nanocavities, optical resonators that help to reduce the pixel size.

The team has been working on small-pixel-size SLMs for years, and had previously reported breakthroughs for reducing their pixel size using metasurfaces. In this study, they focused on how a similar pixel size reduction can be achieved using Fabry-Perot nanocavities.

They found that besides being ultra-thin, Fabry-Perot nanocavities can also tune the properties of light at different wavelengths simultaneously to project full-colour holographic images. In addition, the researchers successfully reduced the pixel size of the SLM to around 1 µm, about four times smaller than current industry gold standard SLMs.

This method of introducing nanocavities to reduce the thickness of liquid crystal SLMs has since been patented by the group, an achievement that Kuznetsov believes has transformative potential in the industry.

“One of the most exciting future applications of SLM technologies is true 3D holographic displays, which will allow us to see true 3D images from a display instead of the 2D projections which we see now,” he said. “When developed, these kinds of devices will completely change the way we receive and interact with information.”

The team now has its sights set on bringing its innovation to the market. Scaling the technology up from a lab-made prototype to market-ready headsets can be complicated, but Kuznetsov remains optimistic. “This should be a solvable problem and we see a high potential for commercialising this technology in the future,” he concluded.

The A*STAR researchers contributing to this research are from the Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE).

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Mansha, S., Moitra, P., Xu, X., Mass, T.W.W., Veetil, R.M. et al. High resolution multispectral spatial light modulators based on tunable Fabry-Perot nanocavities, Light: Science & Applications 11 (2022). | article

About the Researchers

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Arseniy Kuznetsov

Principal Scientist and Head of Advanced Optical Technologies department

Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE)
Arseniy Kuznetsov is a Principal Scientist and Head of the Advanced Optical Technologies department at A*STAR’s Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE). He obtained his double PhD degree at the University of Paris 13 in 2005 and the Institute of Applied Physics of the Russian Academy of Sciences in 2006, and was a research fellow at leading research institutes in Germany and Russia before joining A*STAR in 2011. Kuznetsov’s research interests include nanophotonics, flat optics, dielectric nanoantennas and nanotechnology.
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Ramón Paniagua-Domínguez

Deputy Head, Advanced Optical Technologies department

Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE)
Ramón Paniagua-Domínguez is the Deputy Head of the Advanced Optical Technologies department at A*STAR’s Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE). There, he leads the Spatial Light Modulators group, which aims at developing ultra-thin optical devices and future display technologies based on the concept of optical metasurfaces. Broadly, his research interests focus on the interaction between light and matter at the nanoscale, and how this can be used to improve and control the generation, propagation and detection of light.

This article was made for A*STAR Research by Wildtype Media Group