The Pockels effect is used to make Pockels cells, which are voltage-controlled wave plates.
The electric field can be applied to the crystal medium either longitudinally or transversely to the light beam. Longitudinal Pockels cells need transparent or ring electrodes. Transverse voltage requirements can be reduced by lengthening the crystal.
Alignment of the crystal axis with the ray axis is critical. Misalignment leads to birefringence and to a large phase shift across the long crystal. This leads to polarization rotation if the alignment is not exactly parallel or perpendicular to the polarization. A transverse cell consists of two crystals in opposite orientation, which give a zero order wave plate when voltage is turned off. This is often not perfect and drifts with temperature. But the mechanical alignment of the crystal axis is not so critical and is often done by hand without screws; while misalignment leads to some energy in the wrong ray (either e or o -- for example, horizontal or vertical), in contrast to the longitudinal case, the loss is not amplified through the length of the crystal.
Pockels cells may be used to rotate the polarization of a passing beam. See Applications below for uses.
Due to the high relative dielectric constant of about 36 of the crystal electric field changes propagate only with c/6. Fast non fiber optic cells are thus embedded into a matched transmission line. Putting it at the end of a transmission line leads to reflections and doubled switching time. The signal from the driver is split into parallel lines which lead to both ends of the crystal, when they meet in the crystal their voltages add up. Pockels cells for fibre optics may employ a traveling wave design to reduce current requirements and increase speed.
Usable crystals also exhibit the piezoelectric effect to some degree (RTP has the lowest, BBO and Lithium niobate are high), after a voltage change sound waves start propagating from the sides of the crystal to the middle. This is not important for pulse pickers, but for boxcar windows. Guard space between the light and the faces of the crystals needs to be larger for longer holding times. Behind the sound wave the crystal stays deformed in the equilibrium position for the high electric field. This increases the polarization. Due to the growing of the polarized volume the electric field in the crystal in front of the wave increases linearly, or the driver has to provide a constant current leakage.
The driver may employ a lot transistors connected parallel and serial. The transistors are floating and need DC isolation for their gates. So either the gate signal is send via optical fiber or the gates are driven by a large transformer with careful compensation for feedback to prevent oscillation.
The driver may employ a cascade of transistors and a triode. In a classic, commercial circuit the last transistor is an IRF830 Mosfet and the triode is a Eimac Y690 triode. The setup with a single triode has the lowest capacity, this even justifies turning off the cell by applying the double voltage. A resistor ensures the leakage current needed by the crystal and later to recharge the storage capacitor. The Y690 switches up to 10 kV and the cathode delivers 40 A if the grid is on +400 V. In this case the grid current is 8 A and the input impedance is thus 50 Ohm, which matches standard coaxial cables, and the Mosfet can thus placed remotely. Some of the 50 Ohm is spent on an additional resistor which pulls the bias on -100 V. The IRF can switch 500 Volts. It can deliver 18 A pulsed. Its leads function as an inductance, a storage capacitor is employed, the 50 Ohm coax cable is connected, the Mosfet has an internal resistance, and in the end this is a critically damped RLC circuit, which is fired by a pulse to the gate of the Mosfet.
The gate needs 5 V pulses (range: +-20 V) while provided with 22 nC. Thus the current gain of this transistor is one for 3 ns switching, but it still has voltage gain. Thus it could theoretically also be used in common gate configuration and not in common source configuration. Transistors, which switch 40 V are typically faster, so in the previous stage a current gain is possible.
And then there the little problem, that the IRF delivers a negative pulse, but the Y690 needs a positive pulse, which is solved by a transformer.
Pockels cells are used in a variety of scientific and technical applications: