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Tunable Laser Optics

Tunable Laser Optics

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Tunable Laser Optics

471 pagine
Oct 7, 2003


Chapters will provide self-contained treatment of the topic as much as possible to allow the reader to go directly to the appropriate chapter to deal with a particular topic of concern. This sharp focus is necessary to maintain the emphasis, and to make this a practical reference. The knowledge and experience will integrate aspects of laser oscillators, laser amplifiers, laser systems, engineering of rugged laser cavities, design and engineering of laser-based instrumentation, and design of highly reliable laser systems for material processing applications.
  • Provides a sharp focus practical aspects of reference material
  • Offers an approach that will be simple, direct, and focused only on lasers and optics
  • Integrates aspects of laser oscillators, laser amplifiers, laser systems, engineering of rugged laser cavities, design and engineering of laser-based instrumentation, and design of highly reliable laser systems for material processing applications
Oct 7, 2003

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Tunable Laser Optics - Frank J. Duarte



Since the introduction of the laser, the field of optics has experienced an enormous expansion. For students, scientists, and engineers working with lasers but not specialized in lasers or optics, there is a plethora of sources of information at all levels and from all angles. Tunable Laser Optics was conceived from a utilitarian perspective to distill into a single, and concise, volume the fundamental optics needed to work efficiently and productively in an environment employing lasers. The optics tools presented in Tunable Laser Optics use humble, practical mathematics. Although the emphasis is on optics involving macroscopic low-divergence, narrow-linewidth lasers, some of the principles described can also be applied in the microscopic domain.

The style and the selection of subject matter in Tunable Laser Optics were determined by a desire to reduce entropy in the search for information on this wonderful and fascinating subject. The author is grateful to the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command (Redstone Arsenal, Alabama) for supporting some of the word discussed in the book.

F.J. Duarte,     Rochester, New York, April, 2003

Chapter 1

Introduction to Lasers


Lasers are widely applied in academic, medical, industrial, and military research. Lasers are also used beyond the boundary of research, in numerous applications that continue to expand.

Optics principles and optical elements are applied to build laser resonators and to propagate laser radiation. Optical instruments are utilized to characterize laser emission, and lasers have been incorporated into new optical instrumentation.

Tunable Laser Optics focuses on the optics and optical principles needed to build lasers, on the optics instrumentation necessary to characterize laser emission, and on laser-based optical instrumentation. The emphasis is on practical and utilitarian aspects of relevant optics, including the necessary theory. Though this book refers explicitly to macroscopic lasers, many of the principles and ideas described here are applicable to microscopic lasers.

Tunable Laser Optics was written for advanced undergraduate students in physics, nonoptics graduate students using lasers, engineers, and scientists from other fields seeking to incorporate lasers and optics into their work.

Tunable Laser Optics is organized into three areas. It begins with an introduction to laser concepts and a series of chapters that introduce the ideas necessary to quantify the propagation of laser radiation and that are central to the design of tunable laser oscillators. The second area begins with a chapter on nonlinear optics that has intra- and extracavity applications. The attention is then focused on a survey of the emission characteristics of most well-known lasers. The third area includes a chapter on interferometric optical instrumentation and by a chapter on instrumentation for measurements on laser characteristics. A set of fairly straightforward problems ends every chapter, to assist the reader in assessing assimilation of the subject matter.

Thus, the book begins with an introduction to some basic concepts of laser excitation mechanisms and laser resonators in Chapter 1. The focus then turns to optics principles, with Dirac optics being discussed in Chapter 2 and the uncertainty principle introduced in Chapter 3. The principles of dispersive optics are described in Chapter 4, while linear polarization is discussed in Chapter 5. Next, propagation matrices are introduced in Chapter 6. The optical principles discussed in Chapters 1 through 6Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 can all be applied to the design and construction of tunable laser oscillators, as described in Chapter 7. Nonlinear optics, with an emphasis on frequency conversion, is outlined in Chapter 8. A brief but fairly comprehensive survey of lasers in the gaseous, liquid, and solid states is given in Chapter 9. Attention is focused on the emission characteristics of the various lasers. For this second area it is hoped that the student will have gained sufficient confidence and familiarity with the subject of laser optics to select an appropriate gain medium and resonator architecture for its efficient use in an applied field. The optics architecture and applications of N-slit laser interferometers are considered in Chapter 10, while optics-based diagnostic instrumentation is described in Chapter 11. The book concludes with an appendix on useful physical constants and optical quantities.

It should be emphasized that the material in this book does not require mathematical tools above those available to a third-year undergraduate physics student. Also, perhaps with the exception of Chapter 7, individual chapters can be studied independently.

1.1.1 Historical Remarks

A considerable amount has been written about the history of the maser and the laser. For brief and yet informative historical summaries the reader should refer to Willett (1974), Siegman (1986), and Silfvast (1996). Here, remarks will be limited to mention that the first experimental laser was demonstrated by Maiman (1960) and that this laser was an optically pumped solid-state laser. More specifically, it was a flashlamp-pumped ruby laser. This momentous development was followed shortly afterwards by the introduction of the first electrically excited gas laser (Javan et al., 1961). This was the He-Ne laser emitting in the near infrared. From a practical perspective, the demonstration of these laser devices also signaled the birth of experimental laser optics, since the laser resonators, or laser optical cavities, are an integral and essential part of the laser.

Two publications apparently unrelated to the laser are mentioned next. The first is the description that Dirac gave on interference in his book The Principles of Quantum Mechanics, first published in 1930 (Dirac, 1978). In his statement on interference, Dirac refers first to a source of monochromatic light and then to a beam of light consisting of a large number of photons. In his discussion, it is this beam composed of a large number of undistinguishable photons that is divided and then recombined to undergo interference. In this regard, Dirac could have been describing a high-intensity laser beam with a very narrow linewidth (Duarte, 1998). Regardless of the prophetic value of Dirac’s description, his was probably the first discussion in physical optics to include a coherent beam of light. In other words, Dirac wrote the first chapter in laser optics.

The second publication of interest is The Feynman Lectures on Physics, authored by Feynman et al. (1965). In Chapter 9 of the volume on quantum mechanics, Feynman uses Dirac’s notation to describe the quantum mechanics of stimulated emission. In Chapter 10 he applies that physics to several physical systems, including dye molecules. Notice that this was done just prior to the discovery of the dye laser by Sorokin and Lankard (1966) and Schäfer et al. (1966). In this regard, Feynman could have predicted the existence of the tunable laser. Further, Feynman made accessible Dirac’s quantum notation via his thought experiments on two-slit interference with electrons. This provided the foundations for the subject of Dirac optics, described in Chapter 2, where the method outlined by Feynman is extended to generalized transmission gratings using photons rather than electrons.


The word laser has its origin in an acronym of the words light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation. Although the laser is readily associated with the spatial and spectral coherence characteristics of its emission, to some the physical meaning of the concept still remains shrouded in mystery. Looking up the word in a good dictionary does not help much.

A laser is a device that transforms electrical energy, chemical energy, or incoherent optical energy into coherent optical emission. This coherence is both spatial and spectral. Spatial coherence means a highly directional light beam, with little divergence; spectral coherence means an extremely pure color of emission. An alternative way to cast this idea is to think of the laser as a device that transforms ordinary energy into an extremely well-defined form of energy, both in the spatial and the spectral domains. However, this is only the manifestation of the phenomenon, since the essence of this energy transformation lies in the device called the laser.

Physically, the laser consists of an atomic or molecular gain medium optically aligned within an optical resonator or optical cavity, as depicted in Fig. 1.1. When excited by electrical energy or optical energy, the atoms or molecules in the gain medium oscillate at optical frequencies. This oscillation is maintained and sustained by the optical resonator or optical cavity. In this regard, the laser is analogous to a mechanical or radio oscillator but oscillating at extremely high frequencies. For the green color of λ = 500 nm, the equivalent frequency is v ≈ 5.99 × 10¹⁴ Hz. A direct comparison between a laser and a radio oscillator makes the atomic or molecular medium equivalent to the transistor and the elements of the optical cavity equivalent to the resistances, capacitances, and inductances. Thus, from a physical perspective the gain medium, in conjunction with the optical cavity, behaves like an optical oscillator (see, for example, Duarte (1990a)). The spectral purity of the emission of a laser is related to how narrow its linewidth is. High-power narrow-linewidth lasers can have linewidths of Δν ≈ 300 MHz; low-power narrow-linewidth lasers can have Δν ≈ 100 kHz; and stabilized lasers can yield Δν ≈ 1 kHz or less. In all the instances mentioned here the emission is in the form of a single longitudinal mode; that is, all the emission radiation is contained in a single electromagnetic mode.

Figure 1.1 Basic laser resonator. It comprises an atomic or molecular gain medium and two mirrors aligned along the optical axis. The length of the cavity is L, and the diameter of the beam is 2w. The gain medium can be excited optically or electrically.

In the language of the laser literature, a laser emitting narrow-linewidth radiation is referred to as a laser oscillator or as a master oscillator (MO). High-power narrow-linewidth emission is attained when an MO is used to inject a laser amplifier, or power amplifier (PA). Large high-power systems include several MOPA chains, with each chain including several amplifiers. The difference between an oscillator and an amplifier is that the amplifier simply stores energy to be released upon the arrival of the narrow-linewidth oscillator signal. In some cases the amplifiers are configured within unstable resonator cavities in what is referred to as a forced oscillator (FO). When that is the case, the amplifier is called a forced oscillator and the integrated configuration is referred to as a MOFO system. This subject is considered in more detail in Chapter 7.

1.2.1 Laser Optics

Laser optics refers to the individual optics elements that comprise laser cavities, to the optics ensemblies that comprise laser cavities, and to the physics that results from the propagation of laser radiation. In addition, the subject of laser optics includes instrumentation employed to characterize laser radiation and instrumentation that incorporates lasers.


There are various methods and approaches to describing the dynamics of excitation in the gain media of lasers. Approaches range from complete quantum mechanical treatments to rate equation descriptions (Haken, 1970). A complete survey of energy level diagrams corresponding to gain media in the gaseous, liquid, and solid states is given by Silfvast (1996). Here, a basic description of laser excitation mechanisms is given using energy levels and classical rate equations applicable to tunable molecular gain media. The link to the quantum mechanical nature of the laser is made via the cross sections of the transitions.

1.3.1 Rate Equations

Rate equations are widely applied in physics and in laser physics in particular. Rate equations, for example, can be used to describe and quantify the process of molecular recombination in metal vapor lasers or to describe the dynamics of the excitation mechanism in a multiple-level gain medium. The basic concept of rate equations is introduced using an ideally simplified two-level molecular system, depicted in Fig. 1.2. Here, the pump excitation intensity Ip(t), populates the upper energy level N1 from the ground state N0. Emission from the upper state is designated as Il (x, t, λ) since it is a function of position x in the gain medium, time t, and wavelength A. The time evolution of the upper-state, or excited-state, population can be written as

Figure 1.2 Simple two-level energy system including a ground level and an excited (upper) level.


which has a positive factor, due to excitation from the ground level, and a negative component, due to the emission from the upper state. Here, σ01 is the absorption cross section and σe is the emission cross section. Cross sections have units of cm², time has units of seconds, the populations have units of molecules cm–3, and the intensities have units of photons cm–2s–1.

The pump intensity Ip(t), undergoes absorption due to its interaction with a molecular population N0, a process that is described by the equation


where c is the speed of light.

The process of emission is described by the time evolution of the intensity Il(x, t, λ) given by


In the steady state this equation reduces to


which can be integrated to yield


the intensity increases exponentially and there is amplification that corresponds to laserlike emission. Exponential terms such as that in Eq. (1.5) are referred to as the gain.

1.3.2 Dynamics of the Multiple-Level System

Here, the rate equation approach is used to describe in some detail the excitation dynamics in a multiple-level energy system, relevant to a well-known tunable molecular laser known as the dye laser. This approach applies to laser dye gain media either in the liquid or the solid state. The literature on rate equations for dye lasers is fairly extensive and it includes the works of Ganiel et al. (1975), Teschke et al. (1976), Penzkofer and Falkenstein (1978), Dujardin and Flamant (1978), Munz and Haag (1980), Haag et al. (1983), Nair and Dasgupta (1985), and Jensen (1991).

Laser dye molecules are rather large, with molecular weights ranging from ∼ 175 to ∼830 u. An energy level diagram for a laser dye molecule is depicted in Fig. 1.3. Usually, three electronic states are considered, S0, S1, and S2, in addition to two triplet states, T1 and T2, which are detrimental to laser emission. Laser emission takes place due to S1 → So transitions. Each electronic state contains a large number of overlapping vibrational-rotational levels. This plethora of closely lying vibrational-rotational levels is what gives origin to the broadband gain and to the intrinsic tunability of dye lasers. This is because E = hν, where v is frequency. Thus, a ΔE implies a Δv, which also means a change in the wavelength domain, or Δλ.

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