An atomic line filter (ALF) is an advanced optical band-pass filter used in the physical sciences for filtering electromagnetic radiation with precision, accuracy, and minimal signal strength loss. Atomic line filters work via the absorption or resonance lines of atomic vapors and so may also be designated an atomic resonance filter (ARF).
The three major types of atomic line filters are absorption-re-emission ALFs, Faraday filters and Voigt filters. Absorption-re-emission filters were the first type developed, and so are commonly called simply “atomic line filters”; the other two types are usually referred to specifically as “Faraday filters” or “Voigt filters”. Atomic line filters use different mechanisms and designs for different applications, but the same basic strategy is always employed: by taking advantage of the narrow lines of absorption or resonance in a metallic vapor, a specific frequency of light bypasses a series of filters that block all other light.
Atomic line filters can be considered the optical equivalent of lock-in amplifiers; they are used in scientific applications requiring the effective detection of a narrowband signal (almost always laser light) that would otherwise be obscured by broadband sources, such as daylight. They are used regularly in Laser Imaging Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) and are being studied for their potential use in laser communication systems. Atomic line filters are superior to conventional dielectric optical filters such as interference filters and Lyot filters, but their greater complexity makes them practical only in background-limited detection, where a weak signal is detected while suppressing a strong background. Compared to etalons, another high-end optical filter, Faraday filters are significantly sturdier and may be six times cheaper at around US$15,000 per unit.