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Fourier Deconvolution

Fourier deconvolution is the converse of Fourier convolution in the sense that division is the converse of multiplication. If you know that mx equals n, where m and n are known but x is unknown, then x equals n/m.  Conversely if you know that m convoluted with x equals n, where m and n are known but x is unknown, then x equals m deconvoluted from nIn practice, the deconvolution of one signal from another is usually performed by point-by-point division of the two signals in the Fourier domain, that is, dividing the Fourier transforms of the two signals point-by-point and then inverse-transforming the result. Fourier transforms are usually expressed in terms of complex numbers, with real and imaginary parts. If the Fourier transform of the first signal is a + ib, and the Fourier transform of the second signal is c + id, then the ratio of the two Fourier transforms is

by the usual rules for the division of complex numbers.

Note: The word "deconvolution" appears in the Oxford dictionary, where its meaning is "A process of resolving something into its constituent elements or removing complication in order to clarify it". The same word is also sometimes used for the process of resolving or decomposing a set of overlapping peaks into their separate additive components by the technique of iterative least-squares curve fitting of a putative peak model to the data set. However, that process is actually conceptually distinct from Fourier deconvolution, because in Fourier deconvolution, the underlying peak shape is unknown but the broadening function is assumed to be known; whereas in iterative least-squares curve fitting it's just the reverse: the underlying peak shape must be known but the broadening process, which determines the width and shape of the peaks in the recorded data, is unknown.  

The practical significance of Fourier deconvolution in signal processing is that it can be used as an artificial (i.e. computational) way to reverse the result of a convolution occurring in the physical domain, for example, to reverse the signal distortion effect of an electrical filter or of the finite resolution of a spectrometer. Two examples of the application of Fourier deconvolution are shown in Figures 12 and 13.

Figure 12. Fourier deconvolution is used here to remove the distorting influence of an exponential tailing response function from a recorded signal (Window 1, top left) that is the result of an unavoidable RC low-pass filter action in the electronics. The response function (Window 2, top right) must be known and is usually either calculated on the basis of some theoretical model or is measured experimentally as the output signal produced by applying an impulse (delta) function to the input of the system. The response function, with its maximum at x=0, is deconvoluted from the original signal . The result (bottom, center) shows a closer approximation to the real shape of the peaks; however, the signal-to-noise ratio is unavoidably degraded compared to the recorded signal, because the deconvolution operation is simply recovering the original signal before the low-pass filtering, noise and all.

Note that this process in figure 12 has an effect that is visually similar to resolution enhancement, although the later is done without knowledge of the broadening function that caused the peaks to overlap.

Figure 13. A different application of the deconvolution function is to reveal the nature of an unknown data transformation function that has been applied to a data set by the measurement instrument itself. In this example, the figure in the top left is a uv-visible absorption spectrum recorded from a commercial photodiode array spectrometer (X-axis: nanometers; Y-axis: milliabsorbance). The figure in the top right is the first derivative of this spectrum produced by an (unknown) algorithm in the software supplied with the spectrometer. The objective here is to understand the nature of the differentiation/smoothing algorithm that the instrument's software uses. The signal in the bottom left is the result of deconvoluting the derivative spectrum (top right) from the original spectrum (top left). This therefore must be the convolution function used by the differentiation algorithm in the spectrometer's software. Rotating and expanding it on the x-axis makes the function easier to see (bottom right). Expressed in terms of the smallest whole numbers, the convolution series is seen to be +2, +1, 0, -1, -2.  This simple example of "reverse engineering" would make it easier to compare results from other instruments or to duplicate these result on other equipment.

When applying deconvolution to experimental data, to remove the effect of a known broadening or low-pass filter operator caused by the experimental system, a very serious signal-to-noise degradation commonly occurs. Any noise added to the signal by the system after the convolution by the broadening or low-pass filter operator will be greatly amplified when the Fourier transform of the signal is divided by the Fourier transform of the broadening operator, because the high frequency components of the broadening operator (the denominator in the division of the Fourier transforms) are typically very small, resulting in a great amplification of high frequency noise in the resulting deconvoluted signal. (See the Matlab/Octave code example at the bottom of this page). This can be controlled but not completely eliminated by smoothing and by constraining the deconvolution to a frequency region where the signal has a sufficiently high signal-to-noise ratio. You can see this happening in the example in Figure 12.  However, this is not observed in the example in Figure 13 because in that case the noise is only in the original signal. The high frequency components of the denominator in the division of the Fourier transforms are typically much larger than in the previous example, and the only additional noise comes from numerical round-off errors in the math computations performed by the derivative and smoothing operation, which are almost always much smaller than the noise in the original experimental signal. 

SPECTRUM, the freeware signal-processing application that accompanies this tutorial, includes a deconvolution function.
Click to enlargeMatlab and Octave have a built-in function for deconvolution: deconv. An example of its application is shown below: the vector yc (line 6) represents a noisy rectangular pulse (y) convoluted with a transfer function c before being measured. In line 7, c is deconvoluted from yc, in an attempt to recover the original y. This requires that the transfer function c be known. As explained above, there is significant amplification of any noise that is added after the convolution by the transfer function (line 5). This script demonstrates that there is a big difference between noise added before the convolution (line 3) and noise added after the convolution (line 6). Execution time: 0.03 seconds in Matlab; 0.3 seconds in Octave.  Download this script.

y(900:1100)=1;                % Create a rectangular function y, 200 points wide
y=y+.01.*randn(size(y));      % Noise added before the convolution
c=exp(-(1:length(y))./30);    % exponential trailing convolution function, c
yc=conv(y,c,'full')./sum(c);  % Create exponential trailing rectangular function, yc
% yc=yc+.01.*randn(size(yc)); % Noise added after the convolution
ydc=deconv(yc,c).*sum(c);     % Attempt to recover y by deconvoluting c from yc
subplot(2,2,1);plot(x,y);title('original y');subplot(2,2,2);plot(x,c);title('c')
subplot(2,2,3);plot(x,yc(1:2001));title('yc');subplot(2,2,4);plot(x,ydc);title('recovered y')

This page is also available in French, at, courtesy of Natalie Harmann.

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Revised January, 2014. This page is maintained by Prof. Tom O'Haver , Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, The University of Maryland at College Park. Comments, suggestions and questions should be directed to Prof. O'Haver at
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