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Definition: lasers emitting pulses with picosecond durations
A picosecond laser is a laser which emits optical pulses with a duration between 1 ps and (usually) some tens of picoseconds. It thus also belongs to the category of ultrafast lasers or ultrashort pulse lasers.
A variety of laser types can generate picosecond pulses, with other performance parameters varying in wide ranges:
- The most common sources are actively or passively mode-locked solid-state bulk lasers. These can provide very clean (transform-limited and low-noise) ultrashort pulses with pulse repetition rates varying from a few megahertz to more than 100 GHz. For example, a passively mode-locked Nd:YAG or vanadate laser can easily generate e.g. 10-ps pulses with several watts of output power, and thin-disk lasers can generate many tens of watts in shorter pulses.
- Mode-locked fiber lasers can also cover a wide range of repetition rates from a few megahertz up to more than 100 GHz (with harmonic mode locking). Particularly with MOPA or MOFA systems, very high average output powers are possible. The pulse quality from such sources varies; for example, the pulses may or may not be close to bandwidth-limited.
- Lower repetition rates are possible with an additional pulse picker and also allow for amplification to higher pulse energies e.g. with a regenerative amplifier, possibly using chirped-pulse amplification. Cavity dumping of a mode-locked laser is another option.
- Laser diodes can be mode-locked for picosecond pulse generation (→ mode-locked diode lasers). This leads to compact sources with typical pulse repetition rates between 1 GHz and hundreds of gigahertz. However, the pulse energy is severely limited, and the pulse quality is not always high.
- Laser diodes can also be gain-switched with carefully designed electronics to achieve pulse durations of well below 1 ns, sometimes even below 100 ps. This leads to very compact and potentially cheap sources, and another advantage is that the pulse repetition rate can easily be varied in a very wide range simply via the driver electronics.
- Although Q-switched lasers typically generate nanosecond pulses, Q-switched microchip lasers can reach pulse durations far below 100 ps.
- More exotic sources of picosecond pulses are free electron lasers, which can provide high pulse energies even in extreme wavelength regions.