# Speckle pattern

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Laser speckle on a digital camera image from a green laser pointer. This is a subjective speckle pattern. (Note that the color differences in the image are introduced by limitations of the camera system.)

A speckle pattern is an intensity pattern produced by the mutual interference of a set of wavefronts.[1] This phenomenon has been investigated by scientists since the time of Newton, but speckles have come into prominence since the invention of the laser and have now found a variety of applications.

## Occurrence

A familiar example is the random pattern created when a laser beam is scattered off a rough surface – see picture. A less familiar example of speckle is the highly magnified image of a star through imperfect optics or through the atmosphere (see speckle imaging). A speckle pattern can also be seen when sunlight is scattered by a fingernail.[2]

The speckle effect is observed when radio waves are scattered from rough surfaces such as ground or sea, and can also be found in ultrasonic imaging. In the output of a multi-mode optical fiber, a speckle pattern results from a superposition of mode field patterns. If the relative modal group velocities change with time, the speckle pattern will also change with time. If differential mode attenuation occurs, modal noise results.[3]

## Explanation

The speckle effect is a result of the interference of many waves of the same frequency, having different phases and amplitudes, which add together to give a resultant wave whose amplitude, and therefore intensity, varies randomly. If each wave is modelled by a vector, then it can be seen that if a number of vectors with random angles are added together, the length of the resulting vector can be anything from zero to the sum of the individual vector lengths—a 2-dimensional random walk, sometimes known as a drunkard's walk.

When a surface is illuminated by a light wave, according to diffraction theory, each point on an illuminated surface acts as a source of secondary spherical waves. The light at any point in the scattered light field is made up of waves which have been scattered from each point on the illuminated surface. If the surface is rough enough to create path-length differences exceeding one wavelength, giving rise to phase changes greater than 2π, the amplitude, and hence the intensity, of the resultant light varies randomly.

An analogy with water waves may help to understand the speckle phenomenon. Imagine a very large, totally still rectangular pool of water. First consider what happens when someone vibrates a stick at one end of the pool at a constant frequency and amplitude; a circular wavefront is propagated along the surface of the pool. Assume that the pool is large enough that we don't need to consider reflections from the sides or the ends. Now consider what happens if a large number of people, all located at random positions at the end of the pool, vibrate sticks at the same frequency, but varying amplitudes and phases. Each vibrator produces a circular wavefront. At any point along the pool, the movement of the surface is the sum of the individual waves, and is a vibration at the same frequency as the source vibrators. The amplitude and phase of the surface wave at any given point are fixed, but both vary randomly across the surface. At first sight, it will appear that the disturbance in the pool is totally random, but on a closer look, it will be seen that a repeating pattern occurs over one cycle of the vibrating frequency. The average energy of the vibration (which is proportional to the square of the maximum amplitude) at any point, is constant over time, but varies randomly across the surface of the pool. When we observe an illuminated surface, we detect the average energy of the light at the surface; thus the brightness of a given point on a surface which has been illuminated by a set of random scatterers with a single frequency, is constant over time, but varies randomly from point to point, i.e. it is a speckle pattern.

If light of low coherence (i.e. made up of many wavelengths) is used, a speckle pattern will not normally be observed, because the speckle patterns produced by individual wavelengths have different dimensions and will normally average one another out. However, speckle patterns can be observed in polychromatic light in some conditions.[2]

### Subjective speckles

When an image is formed of a rough surface which is illuminated by a coherent light (e.g. a laser beam), a speckle pattern is observed in the image plane; this is called a “subjective speckle pattern” – see image above. It is called "subjective" because the detailed structure of the speckle pattern depends on the viewing system parameters; for instance, if the size of the lens aperture changes, the size of the speckles change. If the position of the imaging system is altered, the pattern will gradually change and will eventually be unrelated to the original speckle pattern.

This can be explained as follows. Each point in the image can be considered to be illuminated by a finite area in the object. The size of this area is determined by the diffraction-limited resolution of the lens which is given by the Airy disk whose diameter is 2.4λu/D, where λ is the wavelength of the light, u is the distance between the object and the lens, and D is the diameter of the lens aperture. (This is a simplified model of diffraction-limited imaging).

The light at neighbouring points in the image has been scattered from areas which have many points in common and the intensity of two such points will not differ much. However, two points in the image which are illuminated by areas in the object which are separated by the diameter of the Airy disk, have light intensities which are unrelated. This corresponds to a distance in the image of 2.4λv/D where v is the distance between the lens and the image. Thus, the ‘size’ of the speckles in the image is of this order.

The change in speckle size with lens aperture can be observed by looking at a laser spot on a wall directly, and then through a very small hole. The speckles will be seen to increase significantly in size.

### Objective speckles

A photograph of an objective speckle pattern. This is the light field formed when a laser beam was scattered from a plastic surface onto a wall.

When laser light which has been scattered off a rough surface falls on another surface, it forms an “objective speckle pattern”. If a photographic plate or another 2-D optical sensor is located within the scattered light field without a lens, a speckle pattern is obtained whose characteristics depend on the geometry of the system and the wavelength of the laser. The speckle pattern in the figure was obtained by pointing a laser beam at the surface of a mobile phone so that the scattered light fell onto an adjacent wall. A photograph was then taken of the speckle pattern formed on the wall (strictly speaking, this also has a second subjective speckle pattern but its dimensions are much smaller than the objective pattern so it is not seen in the image)

The light at a given point in the speckle pattern is made up of contributions from the whole of the scattering surface. The relative phases of these waves vary across the surface, so that the sum of the individual waves varies randomly. The pattern is the same regardless of how it is imaged, just as if it were a painted pattern.

The "size" of the speckles is a function of the wavelength of the light, the size of the laser beam which illuminates the first surface, and the distance between this surface and the surface where the speckle pattern is formed. This is the case because when the angle of scattering changes such that the relative path difference between light scattered from the centre of the illuminated area compared with light scattered from the edge of the illuminated changes by λ, the intensity becomes uncorrelated. Dainty [1] derives an expression for the mean speckle size as λz/L where L is the width of the illuminated area and z is the distance between the object and the location of the speckle pattern.

#### Near-field speckles

Objective speckles are usually obtained in the far field (also called Fraunhofer region, that is the zone where Fraunhofer diffraction happens). This means that they are generated "far" from the object that emits or scatters light. Speckles can be observed also close to the scattering object, in the near field (also called Fresnel region, that is, the region where Fresnel diffraction happens). This kind of speckles are called Near Field Speckles. See near and far field for a more rigorous definition of "near" and "far".

The statistical properties of a far-field speckle pattern (i.e., the speckle form and dimension) depend on the form and dimension of the region hit by laser light. By contrast, a very interesting feature of near field speckles is that their statistical properties are closely related to the form and structure of the scattering object: objects that scatter at high angles generate small near field speckles, and vice versa. Under Rayleigh-Gans condition, in particular, speckle dimension mirrors the average dimension of the scattering objects, while, in general, the statistical properties of near field speckles generated by a sample depend on the light scattering distribution.[4][5]

Actually, the condition under which the near field speckles appear has been described as more strict than the usual Fresnel condition.[6]

## Applications

When lasers were first invented, the speckle effect was considered to be a severe drawback in using lasers to illuminate objects, particularly in holographic imaging because of the grainy image produced. It was later realized that speckle patterns could carry information about the object's surface deformations, and this effect is exploited in holographic interferometry and electronic speckle pattern interferometry. The speckle effect is also used in stellar speckle astronomy, speckle imaging and in eye testing using speckle.

Speckle is the chief limitation of coherent lidar and coherent imaging in optical heterodyne detection.

In the case of near field speckles, the statistical properties depend on the light scattering distribution of a given sample. This allows the use of near field speckle analysis to detect the scattering distribution; this is the so-called near-field scattering technique.[7]

When the speckle pattern changes in time, due to changes in the illuminated surface, the phenomenon is known as dynamic speckle, and it can be used to measure activity, by means of, for example,an optical flow sensor (optical computer mouse). In biological materials, the phenomenon is known as biospeckle.

## Reduction

Speckle is considered to be a problem in laser based display systems like the Laser TV. Speckle is usually quantified by the speckle contrast. Speckle contrast reduction is essentially the creation of many independent speckle patterns, so that they average out on the retina/detector. This can be achieved by,[8]

• Angle diversity: Illumination from different angles.
• Polarization diversity: Use of different polarization states.
• Wavelength diversity: Use of laser sources which differ in wavelength by a small amount.

Rotating diffusers—which destroys the spatial coherence of the laser light—can also be used to reduce the speckle. Moving/vibrating screens may also be solutions. The Mitsubishi Laser TV appears to use such a screen which requires special care according to their product manual. A more detailed discussion on laser speckle reduction can be found in [9]

Synthetic array heterodyne detection was developed to reduce speckle noise in coherent optical imaging and coherent DIAL LIDAR.

In scientific applications, a spatial filter can be used to reduce speckle.