Optical coherence tomography (OCT) is an emerging technology for micrometer-scale, cross-sectional imaging of biological tissue and materials. One of the key limitations to achieving ultrahigh-resolution OCT imaging outside the laboratory setting has been the lack of compact, high-performance broadband light sources with sufficient power and stability to allow practical real-time imaging.
The broad-bandwidth supercontinuum (SC) sources were recently demonstrated with femtosecond lasers in combination with nonlinear fibers. Using SC, we can demonstrate ultrahigh resolution OCT. However, wideband SC generally has large excess noise and significant fine structure. Low noise and smooth spectral shape are desired in the
ideal supercontinnum source. In this paper, we describe recent studies on practical SC generation for ultrahigh-resolution OCT. SC generation is first analyzed both numerically and experimentally in terms of OCT imaging requirements and optimized conditions for
generation are discussed. Supercontinua generated by use of highly nonlinear fiber which have a zero-dispersion wavelength near the pump wavelength, generally result in severe spectral modulation and fluctuating fine structure in the spectra. This spectral modulation produces sidelobes and reduced contrast in the interferometric point-spread function. In contrast, normally dispersive, highly nonlinear fibers (ND-HNFs) can generate smooth and Gaussian shaped supercontinua by the combination of self-phase modulation and normal dispersion. Low noise and wideband SC generation is demonstrated using ND-HNFs. Two colored SC generation is also demonstrated using a photonic crystal fiber which has two close zero dispersion wavelengths. The numerical results are almost in agreement with the
experimental ones. Finally, low noise SC generation is demonstrated in an all fiber system based on an ultrashort pulse fiber laser. Wideband, low noise, near Gaussian shaped, high power SC is generated in the 1.55 μm wavelength region. In vivo, high-speed OCT imaging of human skin with ~5.5 μm resolution and 99 dB sensitivity is demonstrated.