Ultrafast grows as lasers shrink

Many of the technical papers and product announcements at recent industry conferences serve to underscore the considerable engineering and design effort being undertaken by laser makers toward making femtosecond pulses more accessible to a broader community and of end users.

Th Steveandersonsm

Many of the technical papers and product announcements at recent industry conferences serve to under­score the considerable engineering and design effort being undertaken by laser makers toward making femtosecond pulses more accessible to a broader community and of end users. And as the lasers are gradually becoming easier to use and more reliable, the payoff is being seen in fields as diverse as biophotonics and materials processing.

At the CLEO/QELS (Baltimore, MD) conference in May, for instance, the winner of this year’s Laser Focus World/PhAST Innovation Award was an ultrafast pulse shaper that can automatically reduce ultrafast laser optimization times. And in Munich in June Toptica introduced a user-friendly single-box ultrafast fiber laser–one of many turnkey ultrafast solutions shown at Laser, World of Photonics. Another turnkey system—this one aimed at CARS microscopy—was shown by High Q Laser and provides two ultrafast pulse trains from a single beam exit. It is intended to eliminate the current need for two synchronized Ti:sapphire lasers in this technique.

Surface engineering is an emerging materials processing application of femtosecond pulses. The intense, localized pulses can restructure a material’s surface, with consequent changes in its properties. University of Rochester researchers irradiated a standard tungsten (light bulb) filament with femtosecond pulses to create an array of nano- and micro-scale structures that make the tungsten more effective at radiating light, and could perhaps lead to more efficient incandescent lighting . Elsewhere, femtosecond-laser engineering of silicon creates “black silicon.” The sulfur-doped, nanostructured surface layer of black silicon provides high optical sensitivity in the near- and short-wave infrared spectral regions, potentially reducing the cost of IR detectors (this month's cover story).

In our continuing “Product Focus” series, this month we look at wavelength meters. If you need to characterize the wavelength of ­lasers, spectroscopy systems, or other setups, find out what you need to know before you buy.

Th Steveandersonsm
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Stephen G. Anderson
Associate Publisher/Editor in Chief
stevega@pennwell.com

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