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High-power Lasers

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Definition: lasers emitting very high optical powers

German: Hochleistungslaser

Category: lasers

How to cite the article; suggest additional literature

Lasers with high output powers are required for a number of applications, e.g. for

Material processing with high-power lasers is the second largest segment of laser applications concerning global turnovers (after communications).

There is no commonly accepted definition of the property “high power”; in the context of laser material processing, it usually means multiple kilowatts or at least a few hundred watts, whereas for laser displays some tens of watts many already be considered high. In some areas, this label is assigned simply for generating a significantly higher output power than other lasers based on the same technology; for example, some “high-powered” laser pointers emit a few hundred milliwatts, whereas ordinary laser pointers are limited to a few milliwatts.

Additional aspects come into play for pulsed lasers. For example, the peak power may be as important as the average output power for a Q-switched laser. Depending on the pulse repetition rate and pulse duration, the peak power may be very high even for a laser with a moderate average output power. Usually, a high average power and not only a high peak power is expected from a high-power laser.

Technical Challenges

The generation of high optical powers in lasers involves a number of technical challenges:

Types of High-power Lasers

There are several different types of high-power lasers:

A perhaps not very practical, but theoretically very interesting high-power laser concept is that of the radiation-balanced laser. Here, the heat generation in the gain medium is essentially eliminated by optical refrigeration.

An aspect of great importance for further laser development is that of power scaling, based on certain power-scalable laser architectures. Even for not power-scalable laser types, it can be very helpful to understand the scaling properties of various parts or techniques.

Safety Issues

The use of high-power lasers raises important issues on laser safety:

An important safety principle in the area of high-power lasers is to enclose the laser setup with a solid housing, and ideally also the whole area where dangerous laser beams can be present. Interlocks can prevent the operation of a laser at times where persons are in a hazardous area.

See also: thermal lensing, nonlinearities, power scaling of lasers, thin-disk lasers, slab lasers, rod lasers, lamp-pumped lasers, high-power fiber lasers and amplifiers, cryogenic lasers, radiation-balanced lasers, direct diode lasers, laser safety

See also the article on “Fiber-based high-power laser systems”, contributed by external authors.


Dr. R. Paschotta

This encyclopedia is authored by Dr. Rüdiger Paschotta, the founder and executive of RP Photonics Consulting GmbH. Contact this distinguished expert in laser technology, nonlinear optics and fiber optics, and find out how his technical consulting services (e.g. product designs, problem solving, independent evaluations, or staff training) and software could become very valuable for your business!

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Dr. Paschotta, author of this encyclopedia, has also published three books in the SPIE Field Guide series:

- Field Guide to Lasers

- Field Guide to Laser Pulse Generation

- Field Guide to Optical Fiber Technology

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