Prisms and Beamsplitters

Section Overview:

Beamsplitters and prisms are not only found in a wide variety of common optical instruments, such as cameras, binoculars, microscopes, telescopes, periscopes, range finders, and surveying equipment, but also in many sophisticated scientific instruments including interferometers, spectrophotometers, and fluorimeters. Both of these important optical tools are critical for laser applications that require tight control of beam direction to precise tolerances with a minimum of light loss due to scatter or unwanted reflections. Illustrated in Figure 1 is a diagram of a typical binocular microscope observation tube configuration. In order to divert light collected by the objective into both eyepieces, it is first divided by a beamsplitter and then channeled through reflecting prisms into parallel cylindrical optical light pipes. Thus, the binocular observation tube utilizes both prism and beamsplitter technology to direct beams of light having equal intensity into the eyepieces.

Review Articles

Introduction to Prisms and Beamsplitters

Prisms and beamsplitters are essential components that bend, split, reflect, and fold light through the pathways of both simple and sophisticated optical systems. Cut and ground to specific tolerances and exact angles, prisms are polished blocks of glass or other transparent materials that can be employed to deflect a light beam, rotate or invert an image, separate polarization states, or disperse light into its component wavelengths. Many prism designs can perform more than one function, which often includes changing the line of sight and simultaneously shortening the optical path, thus reducing the size of optical instruments.

Interactive Tutorials

Selected Literature References

Selected Literature References

A number of high-quality review articles on prisms and beamsplitters have been published by leading investigators in the fields of optics and photonics. This section contains periodical and book location information about these articles, as well as providing a listing of the chapter titles for appropriate sections dealing with beamsplitters and prism systems.

Contributing Authors

Kenneth R. Spring - Scientific Consultant, Lusby, Maryland, 20657.

Matthew Parry-Hill, Thomas J. Fellers, and Michael W. Davidson - National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, 1800 East Paul Dirac Dr., The Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida, 32310.