Thus, classical physics describes the interferometer techniques and the operation of current gravitational-wave detectors. However, we note that at signal frequencies above a couple of hundreds of Hertz, the sensitivity of current detectors is limited by the photon counting noise at the interferometer readout, also called shot-noise. The next generation systems such as Advanced LIGO [23, 5], Advanced Virgo [4] and LCGT [36] are expected to operate in a regime where the quantum physics of both light and mirror motion couple to each other. Then, a rigorous quantum-mechanical description is certainly required. Sensitivity improvements beyond these ‘Advanced’ detectors necessitate the development of non-classical techniques. The present review, in its first version, does not consider quantum effects but reserves them for future updates.

The components employed tend to behave in a linear fashion with respect to the optical field, i.e., nonlinear optical effects need hardly be considered. Indeed, almost all aspects of the design of laser interferometers are dealt with in the linear regime. Therefore the underlying mathematics is relatively simple and many standard techniques are available, including those that naturally allow numerical solution by computer models. Such computer models are in fact necessary as the exact solutions can become quite complicated even for systems of a few components. In practice, workers in the field rarely calculate the behaviour of the optical systems from first principles, but instead rely on various well-established numerical modelling techniques. An example of software that enables modelling of either time-dependent or frequency-domain behaviour of interferometers and their component systems is Finesse [22, 19]. This was developed by one of us (AF), has been validated in a wide range of situations, and was used to prepare the examples included in the present review.

The target readership we have in mind is the student or researcher who desires to get to grips with practical issues in the design of interferometers or component parts thereof. For that reason, this review consists of sections covering the basic physics and approaches to simulation, intermixed with some practical examples. To make this as useful as possible, the examples are intended to be realistic with sensible parameters reflecting typical application in gravitational wave detectors. The examples, prepared using Finesse, are designed to illustrate the methods typically applied in designing gravitational wave detectors. We encourage the reader to obtain Finesse and to follow the examples (see Appendix A).

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