Ray-based optical visualisation of complex birefringent structures including energy transport†
We propose an efficient method to simulate light propagation in lossless and non-scattering uniaxial birefringent media, based on a standard ray-tracing technique supplemented by a newly-derived transport equation for the electric field amplitude along a ray and a tailored interpolation algorithm for the reconstruction of the electromagnetic fields. We show that this algorithm is accurate in comparison to a full solution of Maxwell's equations when the permittivity tensor of the birefringent medium typically varies over a length much bigger than the wavelength. We demonstrate the usefulness of our code for soft matter by comparing experimental images of liquid crystal droplets with simulated bright-field optical micrographs, and conclude that our method is more general than the usual Jones method, which is only valid under polarised illumination conditions. We also point out other possible applications of our method, including liquid crystal based flat element design and diffraction pattern calculations for periodic liquid crystal samples.