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Spatial Hole Burning

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Acronym: SHB

Definition: a distortion of the gain shape in a laser medium (or the loss spectrum in a saturable absorber medium), caused by saturation effects of a standing wave

German: räumliches Lochbrennen

Categories: lasers, physical foundations

How to cite the article; suggest additional literature

When counterpropagating narrow-bandwidth light waves are superimposed, they form a so-called standing-wave interference pattern, the period of which is half the wavelength. In a laser gain medium, this has two effects:

This can lead to a deformation of the spectral shape of the gain (→ inhomogeneous gain saturation), in particular to a gain saturation which is stronger for the wavelength of the saturated light field than for some other wavelengths.

spatial hole burning

Figure 1: Illustration of spatial hole burning in a laser crystal. A strong beam with the blue standing-wave intensity pattern saturates the gain (red curve). It experiences a more strongly reduced gain than the green curve, corresponding to a weaker beam with slightly different wavelength.

Similarly, the loss spectrum of a saturable absorber medium can obtain a dip. The latter effect can occur e.g. in a rare-earth-doped fiber and is the basis for, e.g., the construction of an automatic tracking filter, as is sometimes used in the context of single-frequency fiber lasers.

Spatial hole burning can have various consequences for the operation of lasers:

Note that ring resonators often allow counterpropagating waves in the laser medium to be avoided and thus spatial hole burning to be eliminated. Even in standing-wave (linear) resonators, spatial hole burning can be suppressed by the use of special polarization states (→ twisted-mode technique). Also note that the hole burning effect is suppressed for lasing with a sufficiently large bandwidth. This is often the case in, e.g., mode-locked lasers; here it is obvious already in the time domain that a circulating pulse can not overlap (interfere) with itself in the gain medium, unless the time for traveling from the gain medium to an end mirror and back again is comparable to or shorter than the pulse duration.


[1]C. L. Tang et al., “Spectral output and spiking behavior of solid-state lasers”, J. Appl. Phys. 34 (8), 2289 (1963) (first mention of spatial hole burning)
 [2]T. Kimura et al., “Spatial hole-burning effects in a Nd3+:YAG laser”, IEEE J. Quantum Electron. 7 (6), 225 (1971)
[3]W. S. Rabinovich and B. J. Feldman, “Spatial hole burning effects in distributed feedback lasers”, IEEE J. Quantum Electron. 25 (1), 20 (1989)
[4]J. J. Zayhowski, “Limits imposed by spatial hole burning on the single-mode operation of standing-wave laser cavities”, Opt. Lett. 15 (8), 431 (1990)
[5]B. Braun et al., “Continuous-wave mode-locked solid-state lasers with enhanced spatial hole burning, part I: experiments”, Appl. Phys. B 61 (5), 429 (1995)
[6]F. X. Kärtner et al., “Continuous-wave-mode-locked solid-state lasers with enhanced spatial hole-burning, part II: theory”, Appl. Phys. B 61, 569 (1995)
[7]R. Paschotta et al., “Single-frequency ytterbium-doped fiber laser stabilized by spatial hole burning”, Opt. Lett. 22 (1), 40 (1997)
[8]J. Y. Law and G. P. Agrawal, “Effects of spatial hole burning on gain switching in vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers”, IEEE J. Quantum Electron. 33 (3), 462 (1997)
[9]R. Paschotta et al., “Passive mode locking of thin-disk lasers: effects of spatial hole burning”, Appl. Phys. B 72 (3), 267 (2001)
[10]C. Schäfer et al., “Effects of spatial hole burning in 888 nm pumped, passively mode-locked high-power Nd:YVO4 lasers”, Appl. Phys. B 102, 523 (2011)

(Suggest additional literature!)

See also: gain saturation, interference, twisted-mode technique, single-frequency operation, Spotlight article 2006-09-03b, Spotlight article 2007-07-16

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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