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  1. A liquid crystal variable retarder (LCVR) enables fast, automated control of retardance that can be used as a variable waveplate in polarimetric instruments. However, precise control of the polarization state requires calibration of the LCVR. A manufacturer calibration curve is typically supplied for a single specific wavelength and temperature, but for applications under different conditions, additional calibration is needed. Calibration is typically performed with crossed polarizers to generate an intensity curve that is converted to retardance, but this method is prone to noise when retardance is close to zero. Here, we demonstrate a simple common-path Sagnac interferometer to measure retardance and provide open source software for automated generation of calibration curves for retardance as a function of wavelength and voltage. We also provide a curve fitting method and closed-form functional representation that outputs the voltage needed to achieve a desired retardance given a specified wavelength.

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  2. Supercontinuum (SC) sources offer high illumination power from a single-mode fiber with large spectral bandwidth including the visible spectrum, which is a growing application area for optical coherence tomography (OCT). However, SC spectra suffer from pulse-to-pulse variations, increasing noise in the resulting images. By simultaneously collecting a normalization spectrum, OCT image noise can be reduced by more than half (7 dB) for single pulses without any pulse averaging using only simple optical components.

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  3. null (Ed.)
    ABSTRACT Advances in fluorescent biosensors allow researchers to spatiotemporally monitor a diversity of biochemical reactions and secondary messengers. However, commercial microscopes for the specific application of Förster Resonance Energy Transfer (FRET) are prohibitively expensive to implement in the undergraduate classroom, owing primarily to the dynamic range required and need for ratiometric emission imaging. The purpose of this article is to provide a workflow to design a low-cost, FRET-enabled microscope and to equip the reader with sufficient knowledge to compare commercial light sources, optics, and cameras to modify the device for a specific application. We used this approach to construct a microscope that was assembled by undergraduate students with no prior microscopy experience that is suitable for most single-cell cyan and yellow fluorescent protein FRET applications. The utility of this design was demonstrated by measuring small metabolic oscillations by using a lactate FRET sensor expressed in primary mouse pancreatic islets, highlighting the biologically suitable signal-to-noise ratio and dynamic range of our compact microscope. The instructions in this article provide an effective teaching tool for undergraduate educators and students interested in implementing FRET in a cost-effective manner. 
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