Signal intensity enhancement of laser ablated volume holograms

03 Oct 2017

Conventional volume holographic gratings (VHGs) fabricated in photosensitive emulsions such as gelatin containing silver salts enable the facile visualisation of the holographic image in ambient lighting. However, for the fabrication of holographic sensors, which require more defined and chemically-functionalised polymer matrices, laser ablation has been introduced to create the VHGs and thereby broaden their applications, although the replay signal can be challenging to detect in ambient lighting. When traditional photochemical bleaching solutions used to reduce light scattering and modulate refractive index within the VHG are applied to laser ablated volume holographic gratings, these procedures decrease the holographic peak intensity. This is postulated to occur because both light and dark fringes contain a proportion of metal particles, which upon solubilisation are converted immediately to silver iodide, yielding no net refractive index modulation. This research advances a hypothesis that the reduced intensity of holographic replay signals is linked to a gradient of different sized metal particles within the emulsion, which reduces the holographic signal and may explain why traditional bleaching processes result in a reduction in intensity. In this report, a novel experimental protocol is provided, along with simulations based on an effective medium periodic 1D stack, that offers a solution to increase peak signal intensity of holographic sensors by greater than 200%. Nitric acid is used to etch the silver nanoparticles within the polymer matrix and is thought to remove the smaller particles to generate more defined metal fringes containing a soluble metal salt. Once the grating efficiency has been increased, this salt can be converted to a silver halide, to modulate the refractive index and increase the intensity of the holographic signal. This new protocol has been tested in a range of polymer chemistries; those containing functional groups that help to stabilise the metal nanoparticles within the matrix yield more intense holographic signals as the integrity of the fringe is more protected with increasing metal solubility.