The Editor's Desk: Ultrafast lasers bring opportunity and reward

Among the wide variety of optoelectronics technologies, applications, and markets covered by Laser Focus World, ultrafast lasers are one of the most arcane.

Dec 1st, 1999

Among the wide variety of optoelectronics technologies, applications, and markets covered by Laser Focus World, ultrafast lasers are one of the most arcane. As they evolved from cranky beasts that could—with very careful nursing—produce occasional picosecond pulses to laser systems that can routinely produce femtosecond pulses from compact user-friendly packages, the significance of the effects of these pulses has begun to emerge. In fact, solid-state femtosecond lasers and their pulses are creating a new field of science that touches most of the applications areas routinely featured by Laser Focus World.

Just how mainstream ultrafast laser technology is becoming was evident in October when Professor Ahmed Zewail of the California Institute of Technology (Pasadena, CA), winner of the 1999 Nobel Prize for chemistry for his work with femtosecond pulses, was interviewed on National Public Radio's popular science program, Science Friday. The Royal Swedish Academy said in its citation that the award was "for his studies of the transition states of chemical reactions using femtosecond spectroscopy." Zewail's work involves the use of ultrafast laser spectroscopy to better understand how chemical bonds form and break, and he has been credited with bringing about a new chemical field of study—femtochemistry.

The potential of femtosecond pulses is discussed in this month's cover story, which highlights the instantaneous effects of a focused ultrafast laser pulse in air (see p. 15). Ultrafast lasers in high-energy physics are covered in another story (p. 37). And in his Annual Technology Review senior editor John Wallace details some aspects of femtosecond pulses that make them unique (see supplement following p. 82).

Editorial excellence

At Laser Focus World our primary goal is to report on and analyze the latest developments and trends in both the technology and business of optoelectronics. Our May 1998 issue was recently recognized with an Editorial Excellence Award in the Science/Technology trade-magazine category by Folio: magazine (New York, NY) for "delivering, as promised, a well-balanced mix of business and science." I would like to thank all my colleagues for making this happen; the award recognized a dedicated, hard-working group of individuals. And it should come as no surprise that ultrafast technology—which we have covered since its inception—was featured in the award-winning issue.

Stephen G. Anderson
Executive Editor
stevega@pennwell.com

P.S. It's not too late to sign up for the Laser Marketplace Seminar 2000 at Photonics West on Jan. 26. Call Carole Root at (603) 891-9138 or e-mail: caroler@pennwell.com.

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