White Light Interferometry

White Light Interferometry: Precision in Surface Metrology

White Light Interferometry (WLI) stands as a groundbreaking technique in the realm of surface metrology, offering unprecedented precision in measuring surface topography at the nanoscale. Developed as an extension of classical interferometry, WLI has found applications in various fields, including semiconductor manufacturing, optics, and biomedical research. This article by Academic Block delves into the intricacies of White Light Interferometry, unraveling its principles, applications, and the technological advancements that have propelled it to the forefront of surface metrology.

I. Understanding Interferometry

Interferometry, at its core, is a technique that exploits the interference patterns of light waves to extract information about the physical properties of an object. Classical interferometry typically uses monochromatic light sources, but White Light Interferometry departs from this tradition by utilizing a broad spectrum of light. This departure introduces unique advantages that set WLI apart in terms of resolution and versatility.

A. Principles of White Light Interferometry

  1. Interference Basics: Interference occurs when two or more waves overlap, leading to the reinforcement or cancellation of certain parts of the waveforms. In WLI, white light is split into two beams, with one traveling a reference path and the other interacting with the sample’s surface. When the two beams are recombined, interference occurs, creating a series of bright and dark fringes.

  2. Broadband Light Source: Unlike monochromatic light used in conventional interferometry, WLI employs a broadband light source, such as a white light LED. This enables WLI to capture a wide range of wavelengths simultaneously, facilitating high-resolution imaging.

  3. Low Coherence: White Light Interferometry relies on low-coherence light sources, ensuring that interference occurs over a short distance. This property is crucial for separating the reflected light waves from different surfaces, enabling precise measurements of surface features.

II. Components of a White Light Interferometer

A White Light Interferometer consists of several key components that work in concert to generate accurate and detailed surface profiles.

A. Interferometer Setup

  1. Michelson Interferometer Configuration: The Michelson interferometer is a common setup for WLI. It includes a beam splitter, reference and sample arms, and a detector. The interference pattern generated by combining the reference and sample beams is recorded and analyzed to extract surface information.

  2. Objective Lens: A high-quality objective lens is employed to focus the white light onto the sample surface and collect the reflected light. The lens plays a crucial role in determining the lateral resolution of the system.

B. Spectrometer

  1. Grating-Based Dispersion: A spectrometer disperses the interfered light into its various wavelengths using a diffraction grating. This dispersion allows for the separation of interference fringes corresponding to different wavelengths, facilitating precise measurement of surface features.

  2. Charge-Coupled Device (CCD) Detector: The dispersed light is then captured by a CCD detector, which converts the optical interference pattern into an electronic signal. This signal is subsequently processed to construct a detailed three-dimensional profile of the sample surface.

III. Mathematical equations behind the White Light Interferometry

White Light Interferometry (WLI) involves complex mathematical equations to describe the interference patterns and extract information about the surface topography of a sample. The following provides a simplified overview of the mathematical principles involved in WLI:

Interference Pattern

The interference pattern produced in WLI arises from the superposition of light waves reflected from the reference and sample surfaces. The resulting intensity at a point on the detector can be described by the equation:

I(x) = Ir + Is + 2 sqrt(Ir⋅Is) ⋅ cos{⁡(4π / λ)⋅n⋅x} ;


  • I(x) is the intensity at a point on the detector.

  • Ir and Is are the intensities of the light reflected from the reference and sample surfaces, respectively.

  • x is the position on the detector.

  • λ is the wavelength of the light.

  • n is the refractive index of the medium between the reference and sample surfaces.

Phase Analysis

The phase difference between the reference and sample arms is crucial for determining surface height. The phase ϕ(x) can be related to the position x on the detector by:

ϕ(x) = (4π / λ) ⋅ n ⋅ x ;

This equation demonstrates that the phase difference is directly proportional to the position on the detector and provides a means to convert the measured interference pattern into height information.

Surface Reconstruction

The phase information obtained at different wavelengths is used to reconstruct the surface profile. The height h(x) of the sample surface at a given position x can be expressed as:

h(x) = [ϕ(x) / 2k] ;

Where: k is the wavenumber (k=2πλ).

These equations represent a simplified overview of the mathematical principles behind White Light Interferometry. It should be noted that, in practical applications, data processing and analysis are more complex, often involving Fourier transforms and advanced algorithms to extract accurate surface profiles from interferometric data.

IV. Applications of White Light Interferometry

White Light Interferometry finds applications across diverse scientific and industrial domains, owing to its exceptional precision and versatility.

A. Semiconductor Industry

  1. Critical Dimension Measurement: WLI is extensively used in the semiconductor industry for measuring critical dimensions on microelectronic devices. The ability to capture nanoscale features makes WLI indispensable in ensuring the quality and reliability of semiconductor components.

  2. Surface Roughness Analysis: Semiconductor wafers require precise control over surface roughness. WLI enables the characterization of surface roughness at the nanoscale, aiding in the optimization of manufacturing processes.

B. Optics and Thin Film Characterization

  1. Coating Thickness Measurement: WLI excels in determining the thickness of thin films and coatings. The interference patterns formed by the reflected light provide accurate information about the thickness of transparent or reflective layers.

  2. Lens Surface Inspection: In optics manufacturing, the quality of lens surfaces is paramount. WLI allows for the inspection of lens surfaces with exceptional sensitivity, ensuring that deviations from the desired shape are detected and corrected.

C. Biomedical Research

  1. Cellular Imaging: WLI has found applications in biomedical research for imaging biological samples with high resolution. Its non-destructive nature and ability to capture fine details make it suitable for studying cellular structures.

  2. Implant Surface Analysis: The surface properties of medical implants, such as stents and orthopedic implants, influence their biocompatibility. WLI assists in characterizing the surface topography of these implants, contributing to the development of safer and more effective medical devices.

V. Technological Advancements in White Light Interferometry

As technology advances, White Light Interferometry has witnessed notable improvements in terms of speed, precision, and ease of use.

A. Dynamic Interferometry

  1. Real-Time Imaging: Traditional interferometry methods often involve time-consuming processes. Recent advancements in dynamic interferometry have enabled real-time imaging of dynamic surfaces, opening up possibilities for in-situ measurements and process monitoring.

  2. Vibration Compensation: Vibrations and environmental factors can introduce noise into interferometric measurements. Advanced systems now incorporate vibration compensation techniques, ensuring accurate measurements even in challenging conditions.

B. Software Enhancements

  1. Automated Data Analysis: Modern WLI systems are equipped with sophisticated software that automates data analysis. This not only expedites the measurement process but also enhances the accuracy of surface reconstructions.

  2. User-Friendly Interfaces: The user interfaces of WLI systems have become more intuitive, making them accessible to a broader range of users. This increased user-friendliness contributes to the widespread adoption of White Light Interferometry in various industries.

VI. Challenges and Future Prospects

While White Light Interferometry has undoubtedly revolutionized surface metrology, it is not without its challenges.

A. Environmental Sensitivity: White Light Interferometry is sensitive to changes in temperature and humidity. Efforts are ongoing to develop robust compensation techniques to mitigate the impact of environmental variations on measurement accuracy.

B. Integration with Other Techniques: Integrating WLI with other surface metrology techniques, such as confocal microscopy or atomic force microscopy, holds the promise of providing a comprehensive understanding of surface properties. Research is ongoing to develop multimodal approaches that leverage the strengths of different techniques.

C. Miniaturization and Portability: The miniaturization of White Light Interferometry systems and the development of portable devices could extend its applications to field scenarios. This would be particularly beneficial in industries such as aerospace and automotive, where on-site measurements are often necessary.

Final Words

White Light Interferometry stands as a powerful tool in the world of surface metrology, offering nanoscale precision and versatility across various industries. Its ability to capture detailed surface features, coupled with recent technological advancements, positions WLI as a key player in research and manufacturing processes. In this article by Academic Block we have seen that, as challenges are addressed and the technology continues to evolve, the future of White Light Interferometry holds exciting prospects, promising further breakthroughs in surface characterization and measurement accuracy. Please provide your comments below, it will help us in improving this article. Thanks for reading!

White Light Interferometry

Hardware and software required for White Light Interferometry

White Light Interferometry (WLI) involves a combination of hardware and software components to capture and analyze interferometric data. The specific requirements can vary based on the application and the complexity of the system. Below is a general list of hardware and software components commonly used in White Light Interferometry setups:


  1. Interferometer Setup:

    • Michelson Interferometer: The basic interferometer configuration typically includes a beam splitter, reference and sample arms, and a detector.

    • Objective Lens: High-quality lenses are essential for focusing white light onto the sample surface and collecting the reflected light.

  2. Light Source:

    • White Light Source: A broadband light source, often an LED or a halogen lamp, is used to provide a spectrum of wavelengths.

  3. Spectrometer:

    • Diffraction Grating: A grating disperses the interfered light into its constituent wavelengths.

    • CCD Detector: Charge-Coupled Device detectors capture the dispersed light and convert it into electronic signals.

  4. Optical Components:

    • Beam Splitters and Mirrors: High-quality beam splitters and mirrors are crucial for directing and manipulating the light paths in the interferometer.

    • Filters: Optical filters may be used to narrow down the spectral range of the white light source.

  5. Mechanical Components:

    • Translation Stage: Precise translation stages are needed to move the sample and achieve lateral scanning for surface profiling.

    • Vibration Isolation: To minimize environmental vibrations that can affect interferometric measurements.

  6. Control Electronics:

    • Interferometer Control Unit: Electronics for controlling the interferometer, adjusting the reference arm, and optimizing the interference signal.


  1. Interferometer Control Software:

    • Control Interface: Software to control and adjust the interferometer setup parameters.

    • Alignment Tools: Tools for aligning the interferometer components to optimize interference patterns.

  2. Data Acquisition and Processing Software:

    • Data Acquisition Interface: Software for capturing interferometric data from the CCD detector.

    • Signal Processing Algorithms: Advanced algorithms for processing interference patterns, including phase extraction and dispersion compensation.

    • Wavelength Scanning Control: If applicable, software for controlling the scanning of the light source wavelength.

  3. Surface Reconstruction Software:

    • Height Reconstruction Algorithms: Software algorithms for converting interferometric data into surface height profiles.

    • 3D Visualization Tools: Tools for visualizing and analyzing the reconstructed surface profiles.

  4. Automation and Analysis Tools:

    • Automation Scripts: Scripting tools for automating repetitive tasks and measurements.

    • Statistical Analysis Tools: Software for statistical analysis of surface roughness, step heights, and other parameters.

Facts on White Light Interferometry

Principle of White Light Interferometry: White Light Interferometry (WLI) is based on the interference of light waves reflected from the reference and sample surfaces. Unlike traditional interferometry that uses monochromatic light, WLI employs a broad spectrum of light, allowing for high-resolution imaging.

High Resolution: WLI provides nanoscale resolution, allowing for the measurement of surface features with great precision. This makes it particularly useful in applications where fine details need to be resolved, such as in semiconductor manufacturing and optics.

Applications in Semiconductor Industry: WLI is widely used in the semiconductor industry for critical dimension measurements. It helps ensure the quality and reliability of microelectronic devices by accurately characterizing features at the nanoscale.

Surface Roughness Analysis: WLI is effective in characterizing surface roughness at the nanoscale. It is employed in industries where control over surface roughness is critical, such as in the production of optical components and medical implants.

Multifunctional Applications: WLI is versatile and finds applications in various fields. It is used for coating thickness measurements, lens surface inspection, and biomedical research, showcasing its ability to adapt to different measurement requirements.

Broadband Light Source: WLI uses a broadband light source, typically a white light LED or a halogen lamp. The use of a broad spectrum of wavelengths enables the capture of detailed interference patterns, contributing to the high precision of the measurements.

Low Coherence Light: WLI relies on low-coherence light sources, ensuring that interference occurs over a short distance. This property is crucial for separating the reflected light waves from different surfaces, enabling precise measurements.

Real-Time Imaging: Recent advancements in WLI include the capability for real-time imaging. This allows for in-situ measurements and dynamic surface monitoring, making it applicable in situations where processes are changing over time.

Dispersion Compensation: White light consists of different colors with varying wavelengths, and dispersion can affect interferometric measurements. WLI systems often incorporate dispersion compensation techniques to ensure accurate measurements across the entire spectrum.

Integration with Other Techniques: WLI can be integrated with other surface metrology techniques, such as confocal microscopy or atomic force microscopy, to provide a more comprehensive understanding of surface properties. This multimodal approach enhances the versatility of surface characterization.

Environmental Sensitivity: WLI measurements can be sensitive to environmental conditions such as temperature and humidity. Ongoing research aims to develop robust compensation techniques to mitigate the impact of these factors on measurement accuracy.

User-Friendly Interfaces: Modern WLI systems come with user-friendly interfaces, making them accessible to a broader range of users. These interfaces contribute to the widespread adoption of WLI in research and industrial settings.

Advancements in Automation: Automation scripts and software tools are employed in WLI systems for automating data acquisition, analysis, and other repetitive tasks. This enhances the efficiency of the measurement process.

Field Applications:

Efforts are underway to miniaturize WLI systems and make them more portable, enabling their use in field applications. This could be particularly beneficial in industries such as aerospace and automotive where on-site measurements are often necessary.

Academic References on White Light Interferometry


  1. Koliopoulos, C. L., & Novak, E. L. (Eds.). (2012). Optical Methods for Data Processing in Heat and Fluid Flow. Springer.

  2. Creath, K. (2011). Phase Measurement Interferometry Principles and Applications. John Wiley & Sons.

  3. Su, X., & Wang, Z. (Eds.). (2013). Optical Techniques for Solid-State Materials Characterization. Springer.

  4. Rastogi, P. K. (2010). Imaging and Metrology: Progress in Optical Science and Photonics. Springer.

  5. North-Morris, A., & Coupland, J. (Eds.). (2017). Optical Measurement of Surface Topography. Springer.

  6. Salathé, R. P. (2009). Optical Metrology for Fluids, Combustion, and Solids. Springer.

Journal Articles:

  1. Brown, C. A., Lobera, J., & Yacoot, A. (2015). High-speed white light interferometry using a snapshot phase-shifting algorithm. Measurement Science and Technology, 26(12), 125202.

  2. Mandina, M., & Rastogi, P. (2010). White light interferometry in phase-shifting mode. Applied Optics, 49(28), 5286-5290.

  3. Creath, K., & Wyant, J. C. (1989). Phase-shifting speckle interferometry. Applied Optics, 28(6), 1120-1124.

  4. Kujawińska, M., & Pryputniewicz, R. (2004). Imaging of phase objects using multidirectional phase-shifting white-light interferometry. Optics Express, 12(11), 2512-2516.

  5. Kemao, Q., & Servin, M. (2005). Fourier-transform method of fringe-pattern analysis for computer-based topography and interferometry. Journal of the Optical Society of America A, 22(5), 974-983.

  6. Greivenkamp, J. E., & Bruning, J. H. (1982). Phase shifting interferometry. Applied Optics, 31(16), 3068-3079.

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