How to better focus waves by considering symmetry and information loss.

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Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, ISSN: 1091-6490, Vol: 115, Issue: 26, Page: 6554-6559

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Lou, Kai; Granick, Steve; Amblard, Fran├žois
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences; NATL ACAD SCIENCES
Multidisciplinary; diffraction theory; focal shift; imaging; two-photon microscopy; spatiotemporal focusing
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We amend the general belief that waves with extended spherical wavefront focus at their center of curvature. Instead, when the spherical symmetry of waves is broken by propagating them through a finite aperture along an average direction, the forward/backward symmetry is broken and the focal volume shifts its center backward along that direction. The extent of this focal shift increases as smaller apertures are used, up to the point that the nominal focal plane is out of focus. Furthermore, the loss of axial symmetry with noncircular apertures causes distinct focal shifts in distinct axial planes, and the resulting astigmatism possibly degrades the axial focusing resolution. Using experiments and simulations, focal shift with noncircular apertures is described for classical and temporal focusing. The usefulness of these conclusions to improve imaging resolution is demonstrated in a high-resolution optical microscopy application, namely line-temporal focusing microscopy. These conclusions follow from fundamental symmetries of the wave geometry and matter for an increasing number of emerging optical techniques. This work offers a general framework and strategy to understand and improve virtually any wave-based application whose efficacy depends on optimal focusing and may be helpful when information is transmitted by waves in applications from electromagnetic communications, to biological and astronomical imaging, to lithography and even warfare.