[OPTICAL REVIEW Vol. 6, No. 6 (1999) 471-485]
Applications of Liquid Crystals to Variable-Focusing Lenses
Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Akita University, 1-1, Tegata Gakuen-machi, Akita, 010-8502 Japan
(Received August 2, 1999; Accepted September 13, 1999)
Liquid Crystal (LC) lens cells with variable focusing properties are fabricated using nematic LC materials and applicable to optical devices, and our recent work on these cells is described. First, the LC lens cells are prepared using lens-shaped substrates coated with transparent electrodes. Their focal length can be continuously varied between the values for an ordinary ray and an extraordinary ray by changing the voltage passing across them. Methods of improving properties and some applications of the lens-shaped LC lens are briefly described. The lens properties of these cells with plane-paralleled structure are then demonstrated, where the refractive index is graded to a quadratic distribution resulting from an axially symmetric non-uniform electric field. LC cells with axially distributed tilt angles are constructed using a pair of circular hole-patterned electrode substrates and very small LC lens (LC microlens) with variable focusing can be fabricated. Optimizing the electrode structure, device parameters, and material parameters of the LCs, excellent focusing properties can be obtained. The properties of the LC microlens are improved by using the polymer stabilization technique. The LC microlens with a divided electrode structure shows three-dimensional beam steering and focusing properties, and the astigmatic aberration caused by the molecular orientation effect can be compensated. Applications of the LC microlens to optical devices and systems are introduced.
Key words : nematic liquid crystal, liquid crystal lens, microlens, variable focusing, free-space beam steering