Making Laser Adjustments With An SNES Gamepad

Gaming has infiltrated everything around us. It seems that any time a control interface is needed, the first thought to many current hacker’s minds are the familiar controls from the video games we grew up with. In this example, [eljaywasi] needed a way to control the wavelength of light coming out of a laser. We don’t know exactly how he’s actually changing the wavelength, but we do know he’s using an SNES gamepad as his interface. You can see a red and a blue LED located on the front of the pad, so it may be that two buttons would have sufficed. We don’t care, we like the SNES pad better.

21 thoughts on “Making Laser Adjustments With An SNES Gamepad

  1. He is probably just switching between lasers with different wavelengths. Unless he is using a acoustic-optic modulator which is really expensive. It is also possible to use passive optics to shift the frequency over a very limited range.

      1. Neither. “Switching between different lasers” is not really efficient, and will not provide you with a continuous tuning spectrum.

        AOM’s will only steer a beam, not change the color (that I know of). You need some type of nonlinear crystal for that. ;)

        The stepper is linked to what I’m guessing is a birefringent filter on the laser, which directly controls the lasing wavelength inside the cavity. I can’t tell which type of laser it is, so it’s difficult to say. Could be a diffraction grating as well.

        Perhaps [eljaywasi] can give us more information about the type of work he is doing and what lasers he’s using? I’d like to know more!

    1. The laser he has there is a Spectra Physics Tsunami (i know as it is the same one i use).It has a tunable range from 675nm to 1100nm however you get into problems with the mirrors if you need to go over a large range. The centre wavelength of this laser is tunable in two ways. Either by moving a slit inside the cavity that site between the dispersion prisms while in femtosecond operation or changing the angle of a birefringent filter at the back of the cavity when in picosecond operation. Here he is attaching a stepper motor to the micrometer that controls the birefringent filter.

      1. Laser cavity high reflector mirrors are normally always coated as they are Bragg mirrors. You can get broadband mirrors for this laser giving you a tunable range from 690-1025nm however the standard is for 720-850nm as Ti:Sapphs gain spectrum peaks at around 800nm and also modelocks best in this region.

      2. Excellent! That’s what I wanted to know.. We’ve got a Mira 900 from Coherent which, from the sounds of it, has a similar cavity arrangement. Interesting though, since the mira does not have a slit between the dispersion prisms, but just a birefringent filter in the beam path. To switch to picosecond operation, you have to change out all the mirrors and re-align. >:o

        MrX, I had forgotten about the doppler shift, but you are correct that this likely won’t be enough to change the ‘color’ of the light (the term ‘color’ is relative here, since we could be talking about only picometers of wavelength shift).

        Now the question remains: How well does the laser take to tuning while in operation? The Mira is a pain in the ass. ;)

      3. I must say I’m impressed by the number of people both working on optics and reading HaD :) For a moment I thought HaD userbase were just xbox gamers.

        Keep up the good work HaD

      4. Medix,
        As with the Mira you also have to change the cavity and move mirrors around when going between ps and fs operation. The cavity of the two lasers are very similar however the cavity in the Tsunami also goes up and down rather than keeping it all in the same plane. Its actually quite a nice design with everything attaching to a central poll along the length and wrapping the cavity either side of it.
        I haven’t really needed to do any wavelength tuning with it and always need <100 fs pulses, however from playing with the slit i have never seen any real problems, it stays modelocked at least.

      1. It may be complete TV drivel, but I distinctly remember a recruiting ad for the British Army using an Xbox 360 controller to control a UAV. (probably more likely using it to alter flight path parameters now that I actually think about it)

  2. At a glance looks like a tunable laser maybe a dye laser by the size and position of the dial. It works by the stepper motor in one of the pictures turning a know on the laser. The know is then connected to a prism in the chamber which selects what wavelength gets bounced around the laser cavity and makes the beam.

    1. I really like what you did here. I also work with lasers at my lab (I think I use the same laser too, tsunami) and I was thinking about doing something like this. I figure the process of tuning the wavelength is problematic enough that maybe somebody solved the problem already. So I looked online and sure enough I found your solution. Would you happen to have a tutorial on this?

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