Temperature changes can detrimentally affect an optic’s performance due to changes in radius of curvature, thickness, and index of refraction. This is a particularly tricky problem when combinations of these changes produce a decrease in focus with increasing temperature, such as infrared lens materials. Current solutions include active focusing mechanisms and nesting tubes of different materials that cancel each other’s thermal expansion, but these solutions increase size and mass. ALLVAR alloys are the only metals that shrink when heated and expand when cooled, known as negative thermal expansion (NTE), making them a unique solution to this thermal focus shift problem. They can exhibit NTE down to - 30x10-6 °C-1. This unique property opens the opto-mechanical design window for athermalized optics with decreased size and weight. This paper discusses the potential for ALLVAR Alloys to reduce the size of passively athermalized infrared optics.
Most materials naturally expand when heated and contract when cooled; this is known as thermal expansion and is typically characterized by a Coefficient of Thermal Expansion (CTE). Competition between different materials, each with their own CTE, can push optic systems out of focus when the system’s temperature changes. The use of low CTE materials like Invar, carbon fiber composites, and silicon carbide help reduce these temperature effects. Unfortunately, they each have drawbacks such as the high density and low corrosion resistance of Invar, the polymer outgassing of carbon fiber composites, and the low fracture toughness of silicon carbide. In comparison, ALLVAR alloys shrink when heated, known as a negative thermal expansion (NTE), and have low density, high corrosion resistance, high ductility, and do not outgas. This NTE behavior, down to -16 x 10-6 °C-1 at room temperature, offers a new way to athermalize optic systems by combining NTE alloys with positive CTE materials. The NTE alloy can compensate for a positive CTE material to achieve a desired CTE. Here we evaluate ALLVAR alloys as a potential material for optics applications.