New technology makes creating ultrashort infrared laser pulses easy and cheap

January 27, 2015, Vienna University of Technology
Light is sent through a narrow hollow fiber. Credit: TU Wien

In a marathon, everyone starts at roughly the same place at roughly the same time. But the faster runners will gradually increase their lead, and in the end, the distribution of runners on the street will be very broad. Something similar happens to a pulse of light sent through a medium. The pulse is a combination of different colours (or different wavelengths), and when they are sent through a medium like glass, they travel at slightly different speeds. This leads to a dispersion effect: the pulse becomes longer and longer.

But there are ways to reverse this. It is possible to use a medium to make a laser pulse shorter. Scientists at the Vienna University of Technology have found a way to compress intense by a factor of 20 to just 4.5, just by sending them through a cleverly designed hollow fibre. The compressed laser pulse only consists of a single oscillation of light. This tabletop technology is much simpler and cheaper than previously used complicated setups. It has now been published in Nature Communications.

Hollow Fibre Filled with Gas

An infrared laser pulse is sent into a hollow fibre filled with gas. The nonlinear interaction between the light and the gas atoms in the special fibre makes different wavelengths travel at different velocities. The components with longer wavelengths travel faster than the short wavelength components. Inside the fibre, however, there is a carefully designed nanostructure, which allows short wavelengths to travel through the fibre faster than longer ones.

The combination of these two opposing effects leads to a compression of the laser pulse. It is like sending off a long line of marathon runners and in the end have them all arrive at the finish line simultaneously. The resulting pulse is not only short but also extremely intense: it reaches a peak power of one gigawatt.

The nanostructure inside the fibre is called "Kagome", which is Japanese for "basket weave". This special fibre that allows undistorted transmission of these extremely short pulses was designed and fabricated by the research group of Fetah Benabid at Limoges University, France.

Schematics of the experiment

For years, extremely short have been used to unravel the secrets of the quantum world. They can rip electrons away from their atoms, they can accelerate electrons, they can help to monitor the dynamics of chemical reactions. Up until now, complicated setups had to be used to create these femtosecond laser pulses.

Usually, the different wavelengths of the pulse have to be manipulated with intricate mirror systems to compress the pulse. This simple pulse compression method should make it much easier and cheaper for laboratories all around the world to create single-cycle infrared pulses and is a key step for generating even shorter, the attosecond pulses.

New Tool for Further Research

In their recent publication, the researchers at the Vienna University of Technology have already demonstrated that their laser pulses can be used for highly advanced experiments: they focused the pulse onto a target of xenon gas, ionizing the xenon atoms. Depending on the exact shape of the laser pulse, the electrons ripped away from the xenon atoms can be sent into different directions. "It is an ultrafast electron switch", says Tadas Balciunas.

The photonics team at the Vienna University of Technology is planning to use this new technology for a variety of measurements in the future and expects other research groups around the world to pick up this idea. Having a femtosecond laser system which is cheap, small and easy to use could turn out to be a boost for attosecond science and ultrafast laser research in general.

Explore further: Creating bright X-ray pulses in the laser lab

Related Stories

Creating bright X-ray pulses in the laser lab

November 11, 2014

To create X-rays—short wave radiation—scientists at TU Vienna start out with very long wavelengths—infrared laser. Long wavelength laser pulses rip atoms out of metal and accelerate them, which leads to emission of ...

Laser light needs more bass

May 21, 2014

They shed light on atomic and molecular processes: ultrashort laser pulses are required to study extremely fast quantum phenomena. For years, scientists have been trying to tune the shape of light waves so as to, for instance, ...

Steering chemical reactions with laser pulses

April 23, 2014

With ultra-short laser pulses, chemical reactions can be controlled at the Vienna University of Technology. Electrons have little mass and are therefore influenced by the laser, whereas the atomic nuclei are much heavier ...

X-rays in the fast lane

May 10, 2013

X-ray free-electron lasers (XFELs) produce higher-power laser pulses over a broader range of energies compared with most other x-ray sources. Although the pulse durations currently available are enormously useful for the ...

Laser pulse turns glass into a metal

August 26, 2014

For tiny fractions of a second, quartz glass can take on metallic properties, when it is illuminated be a laser pulse. This has been shown by calculations at the Vienna University of Technology. The effect could be used to ...

Recommended for you

New thermoelectric material delivers record performance

January 17, 2019

Taking advantage of recent advances in using theoretical calculations to predict the properties of new materials, researchers reported Thursday the discovery of a new class of half-Heusler thermoelectric compounds, including ...

Zirconium isotope a master at neutron capture

January 17, 2019

The probability that a nucleus will absorb a neutron is important to many areas of nuclear science, including the production of elements in the cosmos, reactor performance, nuclear medicine and defense applications.

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

wrestling_guy159
not rated yet Jan 28, 2015
We engineers call that a "filter".

How would this be a filter, if there is no filtering being done. The fabric is slowing and speeding up different wavelengths to all arrive at the same time, not dampening or removing them.
Losik
Jan 28, 2015
This comment has been removed by a moderator.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.