ElectroOptical Innovations Consulting
EOI is a well equipped small consultancy specializing in finding
imaginative solutions to hard measurement problems in very many
areas of optics, electronics, photonics, and mixed-technology
systems. We've worked with clients of all sizes, from garage
startups to universities to the largest manufacturers. You can see
some of the breadth and quality of our work here. Send me an email
and let's discuss your application.
Dr. Philip C. D. Hobbs, Principal
Last updated May 16, 2013: New news, new equipment
Some of Our Current and Recent Work Complete instrument designs, feasibility calculations, expert
witness cases.... This one is a partially-completed design for a
wideband current-sensitive preamp capable of measuring 1 nA in a
100-MHz bandwidth, with near shot-noise limited performance. (1 nA for
5 ns is 31 electrons, so 31 (15 dB) is also the shot noise limited SNR in this case....)
I can often be found on the Usenet groups
sci.optics, and alt.lasers.
Those are great places to talk about optics and electronics, if
you have a reasonably thick skin. Usenet is generally unmoderated,
which is a good thing in a busy group, but there are a few flamers,
whom it's best to ignore.
There are a lot of smart people there who know their stuff and
can help you. (The clearer and more concise the question, the more
helpful the answer, in general.)
Now a new laboratory bible for optics researchers has joined the
list; it is Phil Hobbs' Building Electro-Optical Systems: Making
It All Work, aimed at providing "accessible presentation of the
practical lore of electro-optical instrument design and
construction." I predict it will move to the front of the
This is a wonderfully practical book.... [It] is also a wonderfully
Prof. A. E. Siegman,
I like this guy's attitude. He points out how most scholars...never
write about the troubles they had getting the apparatus to work
right, or the changes they had to make to get valid data. Mr.
Hobbs talks about exactly that. Good man. ...[I]f you work in this
field, you ought to buy this book. If you don't work in this field,
then you should still read it.
— Bob Pease, Electronic
Practical lore is useful only when it's correct, so careful
attention to detail and prompt reporting of any errata is very
important. Nothing is too small
to be worth fixing. Errata are listed by the last printing in which
I got started in consulting during my 20 years as a Research Staff Member at IBM
T. J. Watson Research Center. I began in the Manufacturing Research
department, building special instruments for unique manufacturing problems for
which commercial solutions did not exist, such as scanned-probe and
solid-immersion microscopy, and in-chamber particle detection. I also did a
fair amount of firefighting, retrofitting s/c equipment for new capabilities and
helping fix problems that were causing immediate revenue loss in manufacturing.
Later I developed new classes of computer input device, advanced scanning
technology, and a new class of photonic detector and switch for optical
interconnection, based on metal-insulator-metal tunnel junctions.
The clear practical emphasis has never left me. One of the reasons that I wrote
Building Electro-Optical Systems was to help people to build
better products and apparatus while staying out of all the potholes
in the road, and that's why I love consulting as well.
I do design consultation, expert witness work
(testifying and consulting in patent and trade secret cases),
contract design engineering, debug, and system bring-up tasks, as
well as training in ultrasensitive detection methods and front end
design. I hold
41 US patents
and several foreign ones, and am thoroughly familiar with the patent
process, both in prosecution (i.e. obtaining a patent) and
litigation. Some of my earlier research and development projects
appear below, and there's also a list
of recent projects for clients.
I'm expert in the design, debug, and refinement of electrooptical
and mixed-technology systems. I'm also a leading designer of
ultrasensitive optoelectronics and other low noise analog circuitry.
Many of my designs have improved the state of the art by orders of
magnitude in performance, in cost, or both (see below). I've done
groundbreaking work in thermal infrared imaging, in situ
particle detection, computer input devices, simulation software,
spectroscopy, atomic and magnetic force microscopy, solid immersion
microscopy, heterodyne interferometry, trace metal detection,
photolithography, laser scanning, plasmonics, and silicon photonics.
I also have expertise in downhole instruments (especially stabilized
lasers), disk drives, inspection systems, and
semiconductor processing. There's more detail in my resume, as well as on the
patents page, the recent work page and in the
papers linked below.
On the design side, our customers to date are a mix of start-ups and
larger companies, including some of the largest companies in the
electronics, defense, oil-field services, and semiconductor
equipment industries. We've worked as subcontractor or consultant
on four defense contracts, for DARPA, the Office of Naval Research,
and the Army. Our recent work
page has some more details, but of course NDAs and other
contractual obligations limit how much we can say about most of
them. We're also introducing electro-optical instruments in
cooperation with Highland Technology, a cutting-edge instruments
company in California. On the
intellectual property side, I'm a
testifying expert witness in both patent infringement and trade secret
misappropriation cases, with experience doing depositions, declarations, and
expert reports, in both claim construction through validity or invalidity and
infringement or noninfringement.
EOI is well-equipped for
design, prototyping, and testing of optical, electronic, and
mixed-technology systems of many kinds. If you have a tough
technical problem and need the right solution fast, give me a buzz
at the lab, 914-236-3005 (9-6 Eastern time, preferably). As always, the
first hour or two is free, so if you'd like to discuss your application, you're invited to call,
tell a colleague. I'm always interested to hear
what folks are working on.
(Click on image at right for larger version.)
My silicon photonics work at IBM centred on the idea of
integrating submicron silicon optical waveguides with metal
plasmonic antennas and metal-insulator-metal (MIM) tunnel junctions,
to build optical detectors and modulators in the 1.55 μm region.
They use a novel plasmonic travelling-wave structure to eliminate
the effects of capacitance at optical frequencies—it's the fat metal bit in
the middle of the X-shaped antenna arms, shown in the figure at right.
The attraction of this
method is that it potentially eliminates the usual drawbacks of
silicon photonic switching devices: narrow optical bandwidth,
extreme temperature sensitivity, and high drive power. We estimated
that it could reach drive power levels of less than
40 microwatts per Gb/s (40 fJ/bit), due to its low voltage
swing (100 mV) and sub-femtofarad capacitance.
We built all our own waveguide wafers as well as the ACTJ devices on top
The details of the junctions and fabrication procedures are here.
In the second half of 2010, I did some more work on these devices
with an aerospace client, for use as infrared pixels, and I expect
more uses to develop.
Mode field of the silicon
wide ends of the antenna arms in the
previous picture. For E&M fans: Note the bright fringes in the
quartz just outside the silicon, where the Maxwell continuity
condition on perpendicular D makes the
E field strength jump by a factor of about 6. (It
only happens on the ends because this mode is TE.)
There are a variety of EM simulation schemes in wide use, with
different strengths and weaknesses. For free-space antennas at
radio frequency, where dielectrics are simple and metals are
excellent conductors, integral equation schemes such as the method
of moments (MoM) win. At optical frequencies, particularly when
metal is involved, partial differential equation methods are
generally better. The two most common PDE schemes are finite
element method (FEM) and finite difference, time domain (FDTD). The
antenna-coupled tunnel junction work required simulations with very
fine resolution (1 nm) in some places, to represent plasmons and
metal surface discontinuities, and a very large simulation domain,
at least 5 μm square by 20 μm long. This
requires multiprocessor capability and subgridding, i.e. different
places in the simulation domain having different cell sizes. Subgridding
is a natural strength of FE, but presents a challenge in FDTD, which
naturally likes uniform cubical grids. On the other hand, mesh
generation can be very time consuming, and FEM doesn't clusterize as
well as FDTD and is much harder to get correct.
Lens design programs and circuit simulators have optimization
capability—given a decent starting point (which may be hard to find
sometimes), they will automatically adjust the lens prescriptions or
circuit constants to achieve best performance by some criterion set
by the user.
POEMS is a very capable FDTD simulator that
brings this optimizing capability to the full EM world. I've mostly
been using it to design waveguide-coupled antennas, but it's good
for many sorts of EM problems. The current version uses either my
own clusterized FDTD code, or (for verification) the
well-tested but very much slower Berkeley TEMPEST 6.0 FDTD code for its number crunching
Current Status (2012-06-29):
The POEMS clusterized FDTD engine is currently working on EOI's SuperMicro
server, a 16-core, 64-bit, 150 GFlops AMD Magny-Cours machine with 32 GB of DDR3
ECC 1333 memory and a hardware RAID5 disk array, running CentOS 6.3 Linux.
Curently we're using it to design fluorescence-detection biochips for DNA
sequencing, and recently we used it to perform large scale thin film infrared
antenna simulations for a large aerospace customer. Its previous incarnations
used a 24-way SMP and a 7-node, 14-processor Opteron cluster.
Scaling performance on these small SMPs and clusters is
excellent, with less than 30% deviation from linear scaling of the
single-machine version. In multicore boxes, this is due to some
issues with the Linux thread scheduler, and in clusters, there is also
communications latency over even the fastest Ethernet connections.
reason my code is so fast is that it precomputes a strategy, which
allows a very clean inner loop iterating over a list of 1-D arrays
of identical voxels,
whereas, like most FDTD codes, TEMPEST has a big switch statement inside triply
nested loops to decide what to do at each voxel on each iteration. That makes
optimization and caching much more difficult.
(Click for higher resolution version.)
Laser noise canceller performance, showing the intermodulation suppression action of the
log ratio output. The desired signal is the 50 kHz central peak, but the laser has
additional unwanted 5 kHz AM, which puts intermodulation sidebands on the desired
signal. Upper trace: Single-beam TIA mode (comparison beam
replaced with constant current to show actual photocurrent spectrum);
operation (comparison beam unblocked),
showing spurious intermod suppressed by 60-70 dB.
that the sideband energy has been returned to the main peak, as expected.
Elimination of sloping baseline and peak-height variations. Here's one way the
figure translates into real measurement benefits. Top: Raw detected photocurrent, comparison beam blocked.
Spectral features are barely detectable bumps on a huge nonlinear sloping
baseline, even in the detail view; Bottom: the spectral region of the detail (about 0.5
cm-1) with the log ratio output of the noise canceller. The noise
intermodulation suppression of 70 dB or thereabouts makes the peak heights
independent of the laser power variations, so the lower trace gives sample
absorbance directly, at a sensitivity better than 10-6.
Laser Noise Cancellers
Laser noise is very often the primary limiting factor in making
high-accuracy optical intensity measurements. There are ways of
making your laser quieter, but they won't get to the shot noise
level. On the other hand, what we actually measure is the
photocurrent, not the laser power, and that we can
Laser Noise Cancellers are extremely
powerful devices that allow us to make shot-noise limited
measurements at baseband, even with very noisy lasers. With zero
adjustments, they will reliably suppress the effects of laser
residual intensity noise (RIN) by 55 or 60 dB from dc to several
megahertz, and with a bit of (optical) tweaking, will do 70 dB or
more at low frequency, which is where it's most needed (see the
picture above, which shows > 70 dB suppression of noise
intermodulation). There's a New
Focus app note which surveys applications of noise cancellers.
The laser noise canceller has two
modes, linear and
linear mode produces a replica of the photocurrent minus the noise.
The log ratio mode also suppresses the intermodulation of the laser
noise with the signal, allowing (for example) tunable diode laser
spectroscopy to achieve 1-ppm sensitivities even when the laser
power is varying by >30% over a scan line, as shown here.
Without Tears The definitive summary of my early work on noise
cancellers: Six easily-constructed circuits that can improve the SNR of
bright-field laser measurements by as much as 70 dB at low frequency and 40 dB
out to 10 MHz. Bright field measurements at the shot noise limit become much
The circuits are simple to construct (as
dual op amp and 3 jellybean transistors), so anyone who can handle a
soldering iron can improve the quality of his laser measurements
A word of caution: these circuits are easy to build but
fairly hard to improve. Even if you want some custom tweaks, build
the circuit as described, test it, and
then change it around.
You will have to add the usual 0.1 μF bypass caps on the
supplies, and replace the discontinued Analog Devices MAT04 matched
quad with the MAT14, but no other changes are necessary. Use
ground plane construction, e.g. dead bug on a piece of Cu-clad FR4,
or perf board style on a Vector 8007 protoboard, use nice quiet
power supplies and/or capacitance multipliers, and
the photodiodes on cables. Bring the beams to them, instead.
Other important points: put a polarizer right at the laser to eliminate the spontaneous emission
in the orthogonal polarization state, since it doesn't split the same way as
the laser light, causing imbalance in the subtraction; and
whatever you do, don't vignette the beams after splitting them.
(Applied Optics36, 4 pp 903-920 [1 February
consulting work, I've extended laser noise canceller technology out to higher
speeds (10-100 MHz) and wider photocurrent ranges.
Reaching the Shot
Noise Limit for $10
Popular article on the laser noise canceller, from Optics&Photonics
News, April 1991. An updated and somewhat chattier version of the
SPIE paper below, with more discussion of applications.
(Optics & Photonics News 2 4, pp. 17-23
Photodiodes are essentially perfect transducers—one photon gets you
one electron. So why are photodiode front ends so hard to design
well, and how can we get better results? This paper begins with
a simple set of op-amp transimpedance amplifier (TIA) design rules,
which will guide you in designing your own shot-noise limited front
Op amp TIAs aren't the best design for all purposes, especially in
very low light or with high capacitance photodiodes. For those
somewhat more difficult cases, the paper presents a couple of unusual
cascode transimpedance amplifier and the
bootstrapped cascode transimpedance amplifier.
Sometimes these circuits can get you a factor of 10 in bandwidth
over the best-possible op-amp TIA, while staying at the shot noise
level. (There are a bunch of other tricks for very low currents and higher
speeds that I haven't written about yet. I design a lot of custom
TIAs for customers, so if you have a hard TIA problem, give me a
Front Ends: The Real Story
This paper gives a design study of one difficult case (2 microamps
of photocurrent, 100 pF photodiode capacitance, and 1 MHz bandwidth
required). It shows how a somewhat unconventional design, the
bootstrapped cascode transimpedance amplifier, allows a 60x
bandwidth improvement over an optimized load resistor, with a SNR
within 1 dB of the shot noise. (Optics & Photonics News12(14), pp 44-47, April 2001)
ISICL: In Situ Coherent Lidar for Submicron Particle
Particles in plasma etch chambers are a major source of yield loss
in semiconductor manufacturing. Particles condensing from
the plasma or spalling out of films on the chamber walls are
levitated in the edges of the plasma sheath for long periods, and
then (too often) drop on the wafer when the plasma excitation is
Process control and tool utilization can both be
improved by knowing what's happening inside the chamber while the
process is going on—but how? The plasmas are usually too bright
to look at, and there's only one (poor quality) window in the
typical chamber, so an optical particle detector would have to work
in backscatter, with a huge background.
ISICL is capable of seeing and mapping individual particles of less than
0.2 μm diameter, as they float around in the plasma, a unique
An interesting combination of homodyne interferometry, laser noise
cancellation, and signal processing allows reliable operation at the
shot noise limit in the face of a coherent background 106
times larger than the signal and an incoherent background
1010 times larger.
The techniques I developed for ISICL have proven to be very
widely applicable; at this writing (early summer 2012), my collaborators and I have just received
DOE second stage funding to build a heterodyne receiver of a similar design in a
spectroscopic sensor for nuclear nonproliferation monitoring.
and Sampling Rate of the ISICL Sensor (Philip C. D. Hobbs & Marc A. Taubenblatt) Calculation vs
experiment for the photon budget, signal processing, and detection
strategy of the ISICL sensor. Shows that a photon budget is worth
following, even in a complicated instrument used in hostile
conditions. (Proc. SPIE2909 1997
A $10 Thermal Infrared Imager
A low-resolution thermal camera with competitive sensitivity
(0.13 K NETD) at very low cost. Easily built from scratch—it
requires no special parts, except a screen-printed sheet of
pyroelectric PVDF polymer (as used in automatic porch lights) and a
moulded polyethylene Fresnel lens. This camera achieves a cost
reduction of 2 orders of magnitude ($10 vs $1000) over the
next cheapest, which is a 256-pixel PZT array from Irisys, while
maintaining very good sensitivity. These are from a project called
The design is simple: screen-printed carbon ink on a free-standing
film of PVDF polymer, with a multiplexer made out of ordinary
display LEDs with a few interesting optical and electronic hacks, as
shown in these photos.
Mosaic image from 6 Footprints sensors, showing four people
wandering underneath. Slightly smoothed to reduce the visual noise
from all the little squares.
A fun war story from the September
2003 issue of Optics & Photonics News about the ups and downs of the Footprints project.
(NB the war story link is free; the OPN one requires a log-in.)
mosaic, sensors 10 feet off the ground, also at Yorktown Stage.
There are a few dead pixels, and the sensor in the bottom centre has
a bad surface leakage problem, probably due to the very high
humidity—data were taken during a thunderstorm.
Data were taken at 5 frames/s; the length scales are about 10
cm/pixel for the first, 30 cm/pixel for the second, one and 15 cm
for the second. (AVIs by courtesy of Sharathchandra Pankanti
and Robert H. Wolfe.)
(Click on image for full resolution version.) Scan of a 15 μm square
region of the lightly sanded surface of a double-side polished monitor wafer, taken from
the back, showing a single groove left by one grit particle and an undamaged area nearby.
The green diagonal line in each frame shows where the corresponding line scan
was taken. Repeatable detail in the two scan lines resolves detail
of no more than 0.3 μm per cycle, which is
λ0/4.4. (Image taken in early 1992 by P. Hobbs.)
Heterodyne Confocal and Solid Immersion Microscopy
Optical phase is a wonderful thing—it can get you good
topographical images of samples with no discernible amplitude
contrast, for example, or allow you to disambiguate phase features
from amplitude ones. My interest in phase-sensitive microscopes
dates back to my graduate work—hence this paper.
It gives design
details and the theory of the heterodyne scanning laser microscope,
including the point- and line-spread functions, plus a deconvolution
method that can give resolution equivalent to an ordinary microscope
working at λ0/2—ultraviolet resolution from a
visible-light scope. Operating with a green Ar+2 laser
(514.5 nm) and 0.9 NA, it attained a 10%-90% edge resolution of 90
This works because the interferometer makes it a confocal
microscope, i.e. its amplitude point-spread function is the square
of the illumination PSF. By the convolution theorem of Fourier
transforms, that means that its bandwidth is twice as wide, i.e.
±2NA/λ. A bit of digital filtering turns the resulting
nearly-triangular transfer function into something a bit more
Gaussian-looking, which gives us a factor of 2 resolution
improvement. Unlike the usual image processing ad-hockery, Fourier
filtering makes absolutely no additional assumptions about the
sample; the additional information comes from measuring both phase
and amplitude, which is why you need an interferometer.
This work was one of
the first applications of modern signal processing to optical
microscopy, and led to what may have been the first invention of
microscopy after I moved to IBM Yorktown to work in the
Manufacturing Research department. At that time, IBM produced about
25% of the world's semiconductors, and its advanced bipolar logic
devices gave rise to lots of fascinating measurement problems.
Sam Batchelder, Marc Taubenblatt, and I invented a solid immersion microscope in
1989, as a method for inspecting the bottoms of 16-Mb DRAM trench capacitors,
which at the time were very difficult to etch cleanly. (The basic
idea for a silicon contact lens was Sam's—he originally
to use an Amici sphere.) While this was prior to any publication by
others on the subject, solid immersion was also being developed in
the laboratory of my Stanford Ph.D. advisor, Prof. Gordon Kino, at
about the same time. They took the first solid-immersion pictures,
while we were busy trying to design a manufacturing tool. (See S.
M. Mansfield & G. S. Kino, Appl. Phys. Lett.57, 24, pp 2615 - 2616 (1990).)
In 1989, we had an initial optical design performed by Prof. Roland
Shack of the University of Arizona, which showed that the hoped-for
high resolution could be obtained, at least in the ray model. Work
continued on the real instrument, including studies of how to make
good contact to the back surface of the silicon wafer.
(Interestingly a much earlier, special-purpose contact microscope
was developed by C. W. McCutchen of the University of Cambridge:
1, 3, pp 253-259 [May 1962].)
In early 1992 I took the first pictures at a numerical aperture (NA)
of 2.8, shown above. These were made by optically contacting a
steep silicon plano-convex lens to the polished back surface of an
8-inch wafer (so that the centre of the lens was nearly at the front
surface), focusing a 1.319 μm YAG laser beam through it at
an NA of 0.8 with a Mitutoyo long working distance microscope
objective, and mechanically scanning the wafer+lens assembly using a
piezo flexure stage. Detection used an unresolved pinhole in a
standard Wilson confocal (Type 2) configuration, so that the spatial
frequency bandwidth is ±2NA/λ (twice as wide as the
illumination spatial frequency bandwidth).
When a spherical beam crosses the concentric lens's surface, its
angular width doesn't change, but the refractive index goes from 1.0
to 3.5, so the NA goes up from 0.8 to 2.8. (There's also a 3.5x
linear magnification, so no free lunch is involved.) Although the
Mitutoyo lens was reasonably well corrected at 1.319 μm,
its coatings were horribly mistuned, enough that its internal
reflections dominated the returned signal and caused all sorts of
nasty interference fringes. Fortunately, because of its long
working distance, I could sneak a chopper wheel in between it and
the hemisphere; lock-in detection then recovered the signal from the
wafer and rejected the spurious reflections.
It turned out that we couldn't image real product wafers
easily in our off-line lab, because there were fairly thick oxide
and nitride films on the back of the wafer that made most of the
light evanescent, as well as a lot of embedded particles which made
the back surfaces too rough for good caontact. Instead, I used a
clean monitor wafer. A featureless flat surface isn't the most
informative sample, of course, so I scratched the far side once,
gently, with fine sandpaper. That produced a set of long fine
grooves whose repeatable cross-section allows a good sanity check
for a raster-scanned measurement; if the pattern repeats, it's
probably real. It made the scenery rather boring, as you can see,
but it's interesting as a technological demonstration.
The two frames have the same scan
data, of a 15x15 μm area, but the two line scans are taken from
positions about 5 μm apart along the groove, shown as the green
lines on the images. There is repeatable detail with periodicities
down to a bit below 0.30 μm (see e.g. the peak
detail around pixel 128). That demonstrates a spatial frequency
bandwidth of at least 4.4 cycles per wavelength, clearly more than
the Type 1 limit of 2.8 cycles per wavelength at this NA. If it had
been a phase sensitive design, I ought to have been able to use the
deconvolution algorithm to achieve about 120-nm resolution at
10%-90%—equivalent to an NA of 5.6. (That's asking a lot of
the objective, of course, but the heterodyne approach is pretty
tolerant of minor imperfections.)
After putting out a request for bids in 1Q 1990, we had a full-scale, 3.2 NA
heterodyne confocal instrument design completed by early 1992, in cooperation
with some very smart folks from Sira Ltd. of the UK: John Gilby, Dan Lobb, and
Robert Renton. This design had a number of interesting features, including what
may have been the first technological optical vortex. We planned to make the
instrument scan on a 50-nm air bearing. To avoid huge optical losses due to
total internal reflection (TIR) at the air gap, the design used tangential
i.e. the light incident on the air gap was always
s-polarized. This was done by using a segmented half-wave
plate shaped like an 8-petal daisy. Normally, surface reflections
are reduced by using
p-polarized light, as in polarized sunglasses, but with TIR,
s-polarized is much better. We hoped to do measurements at
an equivalent NA of 6.4, which would be pretty slick even today.
Along the way, we found that tangential polarization in the pupil
leads to a very ugly focused spot with an amplitude null in the
centre, i.e. an optical vortex. (We didn't think it was anything
the time, except that it was spoiling our measurement.) We designed
around this problem by using a circumferentially graded coating on
the daisy wave plate to apply a one-cycle-per-revolution phase delay
around the pupil circumference. That got rid of the vortex and
improved the PSF a great deal: instead of a null, the field had a
circularly polarized peak in the center, about as sharp as a normal
linearly-polarized one, so by early 1992, everything looked good.
Unfortunately, as a result of IBM's
near-death experience, both our customer and our budget went
away later that year, so the system never got built. (I still have
all the drawings.)
IBM had started making computers out of CMOS like everyone
else, so Manufacturing Research was soon absorbed into another
department with a software and services mission. For the next 15
years, I worked very happily on ultrasensitive instruments
for semiconductor process control, computer input devices, low cost
thermal imaging, advanced 3-D scanning, and especially silicon
photonics, and never came back to solid-immersion microscopy.
Fortunately others have made it a useful technique, though as far as
I know, nobody has built one like ours.
hobbs @ electrooptical.net
Send me an email and let's discuss your application. Comments, corrections, suggestions, or questions are also welcome.
Innovations LLC, 160 North State Road, Suite 203,
Briarcliff Manor, NY 10510 (914) 236-3005