Synthetic optical structures are classified as members of a
hierarchy of electromagnetic materials and diffractive elements.
Innovations on a system level are strongly related to the
introduction of new members of this hierarchy as well as by
combining features of two or more hierarchy levels. As an example
we focus our attention on the synergy of diffractive optics and
optical thin film technology. To this end properties and potential
applications of diffractive optical elements coated with
nonuniform thin films are investigated. Paraxial and non-paraxial
diffraction models based on the Kirchhoff approximation are used
to understand the response of these elements. As an important tool
to provide an intuitive understanding we employ a reciprocal space
representation. Three design problems are discussed, namely the
shaping of the spectral response of harmonic diffractive optical
elements, the design of color separation gratings, and the
implementation of computer generated volume holograms.© (2004) COPYRIGHT SPIE--The International Society for Optical Engineering. Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.