Complex vectorial optics through gradient index lens cascades.
He C., Chang J., Hu Q., Wang J., Antonello J., He H., Liu S., Lin J., Dai B., Elson DS., Xi P., Ma H., Booth MJ.
Graded index (GRIN) lenses are commonly used for compact imaging systems. It is not widely appreciated that the ion-exchange process that creates the rotationally symmetric GRIN lens index profile also causes a symmetric birefringence variation. This property is usually considered a nuisance, such that manufacturing processes are optimized to keep it to a minimum. Here, rather than avoiding this birefringence, we understand and harness it by using GRIN lenses in cascade with other optical components to enable extra functionality in commonplace GRIN lens systems. We show how birefringence in the GRIN cascades can generate vector vortex beams and foci, and how it can be used advantageously to improve axial resolution. Through using the birefringence for analysis, we show that the GRIN cascades form the basis of a new single-shot Müller matrix polarimeter with potential for endoscopic label-free cancer diagnostics. The versatility of these cascades opens up new technological directions.