Abstract

We analyze and test a laboratory benchtop version of a compound interferometric phase sensor, a Michelson interferometer whose output is combined coherently with a phase-modulated local oscillator beam tapped off the Michelson input beam. This configuration models a whole class of external-modulation interferometers designed to shift signals, obscured by low-frequency intensity noise of the light source, into a shot-noise-limited region of the photocurrent spectrum. We find analytically that the shot-noise-limited sensitivity achievable with this system is comparable with that obtained by using internal phase modulation, with both schemes suffering (for different reasons) approximately a 22% sensitivity penalty compared with ideal shot-noise-limited direct detection. Experimentally we achieve true shot-noise-limited sensitivity, and we investigate trade-offs necessitated by commonly encountered nonideal features in any external-modulation system. Our analytic model, which specifically accounts for Michelson fringe contrast, electronic receiver noise, phase-modulation depth, and the local oscillator tap-off fraction, is sufficiently accurate to predict the absolute sensitivity of our benchtop instrument to within 0.5 dB.

© 1996 Optical Society of America

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