What is an optical cavity?

In the realm of optics, an optical cavity, also known as a resonant cavity or optical resonator, refers to an arrangement of reflective elements that confine light waves within a specific space. These elements can be mirrors, lenses, or specially designed structures like waveguides or microrings. By bouncing back and forth between the reflective elements, light interacts with the cavity and exhibits unique properties that affect its behavior.

Here's a breakdown of the key aspects of optical cavities:


    • The primary function of an optical cavity is to trap and enhance light of specific wavelengths. This occurs due to a phenomenon called resonance, where only certain wavelengths that constructively interfere after multiple reflections remain within the cavity.
    • These resonant wavelengths are determined by the geometry of the cavity (shape, size, and spacing of the reflective elements) and the refractive index of the materials inside the cavity.


Optical cavities are widely used in various optical technologies, including:

    • Lasers: The cavity provides feedback for the laser light, leading to amplification and creation of a coherent beam.
    • Optical filters: By selecting specific resonant wavelengths, cavities can be used to create narrowband filters for various applications.
    • Optical sensors: Changes in the resonant behavior of the cavity can be used to detect changes in pressure, temperature, or other parameters.
    • Optical communication: Cavities can be used to enhance light-matter interaction for more efficient signal processing and communication.

Types of Optical Cavities:

There are various types of optical cavities, each with its own design and characteristics:

    • Fabry-Perot cavity: The classic design with two parallel mirrors, offering high finesse and narrowband filtering.
    • Whispering gallery cavity: Utilizes a circular or ring-shaped structure for efficient light confinement and low-threshold lasing.
    • Integrated optical cavities: Miniaturized cavities fabricated on chips using waveguides or microrings, enabling integration with other optical components.

Impact on Light:

    • Resonant frequencies: The cavity determines the specific wavelengths that resonate within it,shaping the spectrum of the transmitted or emitted light.
    • Intensity enhancement: By amplifying resonant modes, cavities can increase the intensity of certain wavelengths.
    • Spatial mode control: The cavity geometry can influence the spatial distribution of light within it,controlling the beam profile.

Key Considerations:

    • Design: Optimizing the cavity geometry and material properties is crucial for achieving desired performance in terms of resonance wavelength, bandwidth, and overall functionality.
    • Losses: Light can be lost due to absorption, scattering, and imperfect reflectivities, impacting the cavity's performance.
  • Sensitivity: Cavities can be sensitive to environmental changes and misalignments, requiring careful control for stable operation.
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