Instructables
Picture of Desktop Michelson-Morely Interferometer
Over the years I've had to measure some unusual processes in systems, and one of the most common 'tough' problems has been the measurement of displacement. For mm-scale motion I've used mice (mechanical and optical) to record movement, but I once found myself needing to record nanometric scale displacements and so I was led to interferometry.

An interferometer is not something that interferes with meters, nor a method for measuring between iron things. Instead, it is the use of phase differences (which cannot be easily measured) and the wave-like properties of light to form measurable changes in intensity (which can be easily measured).

Here I'll describe how I built a Michelson-Morley interferometer.
Is it useful? Maybe.
Is it awesome in that you can watch nanometer-scale phenomena? Ooh yes.


heatshrink poke.AVI(320x240) 2 MB
 
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Step 1: The Parts List

Picture of The Parts List
You'll need;

1) A cheap laser diode - red is good, green is better.
I used a 5mW diode that I had bought from Roithner Lasertechnik in Austria many years ago - but I have no reason to believe that a cheapy 3 dollar laser pointer from the local dollar store wouldn't work as well. Actually, there will be reasons, but they lie outside the scope of this article and you can have a dig around with the keywords of 'spatial coherence' and 'astigmatism'.

2) Some single-surface mirrors - I bought half a dozen on eBay for a few US dollars.
These are fancy mirrors that have a highly reflective aluminium coating on one face of a glass slip. They prevent multiple internal reflections, which would occur with normal glass-faced mirrors.

3) A beam-splitter
I bought some de-lasered blue-ray drive heads on eBay, and found a pair of beam-splitter cubes among the teeny tiny spangly bits inside.

In the image you can see the parts.
The two single-surface mirrors are each glued to a piece of aluminium right-angle extrusion that hjave been spruced up with a black permanent marker.

The laser and beam-splitter are glued to two lengths of scrap aluminium, to make positioning a little easier and to ensure that the laser and beam-splitter are at the same height.


guitarbill4 months ago

James, thanks for the article. Now to build an optical bench with stages for the beam splitters.

gb

wobbler4 years ago
(removed by author or community request)
jrcgarry (author)  wobbler4 years ago
How embarassing - yes, you're quite right. In my haste I'd got the block drawn L-R reversed - thanks for pointing it out.
aamenabar4 years ago
Wow, fabulous explanation, finally I understand how distance is measured with light. Thanks a lot.
jrcgarry (author)  aamenabar4 years ago
Well, in many applications that use optical methods for measuring distance, a simple geometric approach is used with *no* use of interferometry For example, in a CD, the focusing lens is continually moving up and down to track the 'bumpy' surface of the reflective layer in the disc. The distances involved can be as large as 1mm (warped disc) but the lens is moved exceedingly rapidly using a voice-coil arrangement with an accuracy of a few microns. All of that is controlled simply with geometric optics. http://electronicdesign.com/article/components/measure_micro_displacements_using_a_cd_s_optical_pickup_head.aspx Is the reflected spot small and tight or big and blurry?
deleveld4 years ago
It is theorized that the interferometery system can be used to detect spacial dilation/compression, such as graviton bombardment or interaction with dark matter. Very cool that we can make these from home now! 5/5
jrcgarry (author)  deleveld4 years ago
Absolutely right - there are several laser-based gravitational wave detectors operating around the world. They use the same principal, but bounce the beam back on itself many times, each time the minimum detectable shift halves.

As partial inspiration I did indeed borrow the idea used in Greg Bear's Eon of a portable space-time flatness meter (a 'pi-ometer' if you will).
Is there a reason, then, that we can't send the beam through another splitter and mirror assembly to achieve the same result? or does it need to travel the exact same distance?
jrcgarry (author)  deleveld4 years ago
After the beams have been split by the beamsplitter, they can each travel along any path you desire (down a fibre, bounced back and forth among mirrors). The pattern of interference fringes depends only on the *difference* in length of the two paths taken by the beams.

More accurately, the fringe pattern depends on the fractional number of wavelengths that the beams have in their paths.

Say that one beam travels 1cm. The number of wavelengths in that distance;
= 0.01 m / 650 x 10^-9 m
= 15384.6
That's how many full 'cycles' the electric field in the light beam makes in travelling that distance.

Say that the other beam travels 1.1cm, the number of wavelengths in that beam is;
0.011m / 650 x 10^-9m
=16923.08

The difference between these two 'numbers of wavelengths' is 1600 or so, but what dictates the type of interference is the fractional wavelength difference. In this case that difference is just over half a wavelength.

The interference pattern for a difference of 0.5 wavelenghths is exactly the same as one for a path difference of 1.5 wavelengths, or 2001.5 wavelengths.

Imagine, you've got one 'wave' and you slide another of the same frequency along side it. They'll match shen you slide the 2nd wave a distance of n wavelengths - the interference depends only on the fractional mismatch.

Hope that I've made it clearer!


papa-ralph4 years ago
Gronicle,
Please check out http://www.britastro.org/iandi/manning1.htm.
It shows how an interferometer is used to control a ruling engine.

Enjoy
jrcgarry (author)  papa-ralph4 years ago
Remarkable!

A lovely piece of work there - thanks papa-ralph!

Naturally, there is scope for improvement (PM tubes - wow) - but as one who has made crude gratings in the past, I heartily say that this is a lovely starting point for a machining rig!
Gronicle4 years ago
This is interesting.  As an amateur machinist I am used to working to .001" degree of accuracy.  Now your comments about using interferometry for lathe and mill work have my head spinning.  Something like this mounted to the tool post on a lathe would give you a heck of a run-out checker on chucks, and the odd old rifle receiver that you just squared off....  Now how do I add some sort of read out scale and calibrate it??  Drawings or pictures would be very nice.  Regards, Gronicle
jrcgarry (author)  Gronicle4 years ago
Hi,

Well, sometimes I imagine that absolute measurements are less useful than relative ones.

For example, I've some equipment being built right now that requires a plate of 300mm width to be flat and plane to better than 0.03mm (roughly one of those 'thou' things that I hear about).

A good digital or mechanical clock gauge would be fine for this, but even in its current state my desktop MM interferometer gives you 1/4 lambda (550 nm) precision = 0.0005 mm, almost one hundred times better.

If you needed an absolute separation measure, you'll need to mount a mirror to the workpiece and then perhaps use an electrical contact between the tool and piece to detect the datum zero. Then, count fringe changes - that's the easy bit - any photodiode and an ADC board would allow a PC to monitor the brightness of a section of the fringe pattern.

Note, a standard CD drive will give you sub-micron precision, and there's already a convenient rotating table in the middle of the drive assembly, and a radial slideway!
I think I could also imagine that relative measurements may be more useful at times than absolute measures.  For me that would be the situation when lapping a newly made part to make it fit with other older parts that are themselves no longer within specified dimentions.

Metric is fine and easier to work in than feet, inches, and eighths, which is what boat builders still tend to use in USA.  You don't mention the width or depth of your plate under construction but 300mm to 0.03 should be quite straight forward with a shaper such as my old AMMCO 7" bench model.

Thanks for the ideas on measuring a work piece on a lathe or mill.  I shall have to ponder that for a while and probably try to build one to really see if I understand it.  CD drive with cheap already make components for use is attractive.

I don't do barrel building for rifles, but can alread see how the MM interferometer could be set up on a floated rifle barrel and linked with a PC to record and map vibrations of barrel when rounds are discharged.  Might be interesting to see how barrel virbration relates to accuracy of rounds fired.

Thanks for the feed back.  Appreciate it. 
jrcgarry (author)  Gronicle4 years ago
Indeed, holding 0.03mm over a (circular) 300mm plate isn't too challenging, but interference methods would certainly allow for another order of magnitude to be readily achieved.

Well well - not that I'm in the business of needing such tolerances really.

Now, your idea of recording barrel flexure is interesting - I would suggest an interferogram arrangement.

http://starryridge.com/mediawiki-1.9.1/index.php?title=Bath_Phase_Shift_Interferometer

This will certainly visualize plastic deformation of the barrel after a shot - for a green laser 1/4 lambda is only 1000 atoms.

But, what one would like to do is to record the distortion over a face of the barrel *during* the firing process. Not impossible, and requiring *only* a very fast camera and a rather bright laser.

I would imagine that something in the tens of kilo-frames-per-second range will show the 'bulge' of the round passing long the barrel, and such frame rates are almost in the commercial range.

http://en.akihabaranews.com/21231/image/casio-unveils-1-000fps-compact-cameras

However, you can rent streak cameras for not too much, and as long as you have enough photons, you'll get an image.

Sounds like a lark!

(as for the CD drive idea, I was toying with using one as a very small lathe - the magnetic suspension of the laser lens doesn't give much travel along the lathe's axis, so that would need to be altered...)
JRC,

Your idea about acquiring a very rapid frame camera to actually picture the "buldge" in a rifle barrel as the slug travels would be a lark.  I suppose I was trying to think of a more basic approach. 

Basicly, set up an interferometer (IFM) along the lines of the one desceibed mesuring the defection of the rail road rail in the museum.  Get the IFM readings sensed using your idea, and converted to a pluse plot patterm at a high frequency rate for capture on a PC.  Hopefully, this could be plotted to whatever scale is needed for visual examination, storage and future overlay/comparison with other "takes".   

The fun part would come in testing a series of loads as well as free-floating and point constrained barrels to see which conditions produce the best accuracy at at given range.   Long range shooters and bench shooters in particular go to a lot of trouble to get accuracy.  In the one area of barrels people play with a lot of things.  Re-boring old barrels that have been shot out and gone through many heat/cold cycles to releave stress in the barrel.  Muzzle crown, Free floating vs. constrained or point loaded barrels.  Lots of Ju/Ju in where and how much point pressure to put on a given barrel to make it shoot more accurately.

The basic one demensional IFM plot might not tell me anything system if all data points plot for randomness.  A two demensional or double IFM set up would give richer infomation.  And by then I would be trying to get the computer boys at work to do some programing for me.  Probably, this has all been done big time at Aberden proving gounds and the info is published in DITEC or somewhere If I looked.  But this would be for fun.

Exactly what size of lathe are you thinking of making?  Anything small enough to shave "nanos" off of any material will be a real challenge!  Work holding, vibration in the work area, just handling work pieces!  Or do I have the wrong idea on size and are you thinking something more like a watch makers lathe with nanos for precision in cutting?

SSK
jrcgarry (author)  Gronicle4 years ago
Feel free to take this to private email (jay arr cee at hotmail dot com) if you like - otherwise we'll fill the comments page!

Now - one problem with a simple IFM as it stands is that if you simply glue a mirror to the barrel, you can't distinguish between the barrel bending to one side (unlikely, but...) and the barrel actually expanding. A whole host of harmonics will be excited by the round, and some of those, and the nonuniformity of the barrel will cause bending *and* expansion/contraction waves.

I'll think about this for a bit - what you really want is a pair of mirrors on opposite sides of the barrel in such a way that the diameter is sensed, and any bending modes are cancelled out. I've just got home and am full of no coffee so will think about this for a bit.

As for readout speed, photodiodes easily can be readout to 100s of kHz - the trick is having a fast ADC to sample the photodiode voltage. Again, I'll think and do some digging.

If it's any help, I actually own and run a small physics consultancy here in Vancouver...
Jur4 years ago
Great work!
Even though I will probably (read definitely) never have any use of this knowledge it was still very interesting and informative reading.

I have one question though.
Isn't there a risk that the beams recombine without the interference?
If the north beam travels exactly one wavelength longer than the south, wouldn't the interference be zero again?
jrcgarry (author)  Jur4 years ago
Thanks!
Your question is a perfectly good one.
Due to the imperfections in the optics, and the lack of any converging lenses, the intereference pattern is not quite what a simple analysis suggests. In reality you get a circular (ish) patch of finely divided lines (or even rings) as the interference pattern.

In the idealized 2-dimensional case (with perfect optics), then 'yes' the 'fringe' is a single patch that oscillates from bright to dark. And thus there is an ambiguity when the phase reaches 360°.

But you can solve that by adding a second laser with a different wavelength, to the rig. If the wavelengths are not too different you can make the 'distance shift needed to yield ambiguous answers' very large indeed. Or combine it with a separate method, say, an optical encoder.
Jur jrcgarry4 years ago
Oh, I see.
Thanks for the explanation!
bigredlevy4 years ago
nice interferometer.
you should explain the failure of the michelson morely experiment to prove the aether theory on account of the fact it's impossible to measure velocity inside an inertial frame of reference.
Dr KAZ4 years ago

I  have read, and tried/completed many Instructables. This one goes to the top of my list. Why? Because it is one of the best Instructables I have ever read. Easy as that. 5 out of 5 dude!

shawnchasse4 years ago
 Very nice writeup, you explained what interferometers are in terms that the average viewer should be able to understand. I was hoping you would go into how you use it to actually measure something, and what that something would be. I used to work for a company that made grazing incidence interferometers along with a complex software package to perform the measuring of parts. I was very curious as to how you would be measuring with this one.
jrcgarry (author)  shawnchasse4 years ago
Hi,

Glad that you liked it.
As for applications?
Well, ever since I had acces to an AFM at ESTEC I have toyed with the idea of manipulating stuff at small scales. Clearly, before one uses a sub-micron lathe, one needs to know where things are - and interferometry could allow a very tiny lathe or mill to be constructed.

As a side note, there are other paths to that goal for the DIY experimenter, even a CD drive head (slide assembly and optical platform) would allow for sub-micron positioning, but interferometry gives a useful factor of 5 or so finer resolving power at little cost.

Dunno.

Still thinking. :D
Wyle_E4 years ago
One of the cool things you can do with an interferometer is replicate a science museum exhibit I saw once, titled "How far can you bend this railroad rail with your thumb?"  One end of a short length of railway rail was rigidly supported (I think it was welded to the building's steel frame) and one of the interferometer mirrors was glued to the other end, opposite a knob labeled "Press here."

With a linear photodiode array from an old scanner, an Arduino and some interface hardware, you could probably build an interferometer that reads out directly in nanometers.
jrcgarry (author)  Wyle_E4 years ago
Thanks for the suggestion - I wasn't 100% serious about not having an application in mind, but welcome people to take this and run with it (even with the ever-present Arduino!)

I actually used interferometry in a real-world application when I was a post-doc in the Netherlands. I needed to measure the thickness of thin films of amino acids that I was condensing from the vapour phase on to silicon discs (this was all for an exobiological spectroscopy experiment). I built a cheap/cheerful interferometer

http://www.bipbip.info/jg/make4.html

that allowed me to measure sub-micron films with 50nm resolution.

I have had ideas about building a local pi-o-meter, something that (humorously) measures the local curvature of space (just an interferometer on a thermally-stabilized platform) - or a box that tells you how your apartment room expands and contracts over the day from thermal expansion. Daft stuff like that.
CyberBill4 years ago
Hey, this is pretty neat - I figured that the interference pattern would be on the nanometer scale - but obviously I was wrong! :)

I'm curious, though, how you actually measure things with this setup?  In my mind I can see that if you moved one of the mirrors it would change the interference pattern on a large scale - just like how the interference pattern is 'enlarged' from the nanometer scale.

I don't have a beam splitter, so I can't set this up and see how it reacts - could you possibly do a movie on YouTube or something showing what happens when the mirrors move forward and backward?
jrcgarry (author)  CyberBill4 years ago
Hi,

The card that I used as the screen was tilted almost to the horizontal - that way the fringes could be viewed more easily - on a perpendicular card they were compressed and looked like a faint stripe with very many fine lines within it.

The fact that the fringes here are perpendicular to the rays is 100% down to the astigmatism and poor optics of the rig.
(shrug)

But in general interference phenomena can be any scale - have a Google for 'Newton's rings' - or 'two-slit interference'. In the latter, the fringes can have spacings of several degrees even for a hand-made pair of slits!

As for utility, I did actually use this method for a real-world need a few years ago:
http://www.bipbip.info/jg/make4.html

I'm re-uploading the movie of the fringes moving - that didn't seem to work when I published it!
crazyrog174 years ago
While at first, I knew nothing about infterferometry, it sounded weird and made me want to read a little into it. 

Every word of this instructable was interesting, clear and informative. I really, really doubt I'll ever use this new knowledge, but it's cool to think this stuff is possible. 

I especially loved the cheese references.


jrcgarry (author)  crazyrog174 years ago
:D
Glad that you found it informative and entertaining - I now spot that the movie I had taken of the fringes moving had not uploaded correctly - and I'm trying to fix that now.