The Photonics Spotlight
The Photonics Spotlight – associated with the Encyclopedia of Laser Physics and Technology – is a “blog” (web log) with the purpose of highlighting interesting news and useful information in the area of photonics, particularly laser technology and applications. The content can be related to particularly interesting scientific papers or to other forms of publications, reporting for example cute new techniques, special achievements, or useful hints.
Note that the Spotlight articles (as well as those of the Encyclopedia) are citable. Permanent links are given for each article.
This blog is operated by Dr. Rüdiger Paschotta of RP Photonics Consulting. Comments and suggestions are welcome. The news items are definitely not available for advertising, but advertisers can order banners on the right column of this page.
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And here are the articles:
The Enormous Popularity of the RP Photonics Website
Posted on 2015-04-10 as a part of the Photonics Spotlight.
Permanent link: http://www.rp-photonics.com/spotlight_2015_04_10.html
As a reader of this newsletter, you are probably aware that the website of RP Photonics is one of the most popular ones in the area of photonics. I thought that some may be interested to learn a bit more in detail what kind of traffic numbers we have reached after a bit over 10 years. Of course, such information is most relevant for those selling photonics products, but others may just enjoy a look at some mind-boggling numbers.
An important measure is the number of page views within one month. This tells you how often some user has got one page of the website displayed in his browser software. In March 2015, our statistics software counted as many as 217'428 page views, caused by about 100'000 different visitors. In 2014, we had around 170'000 views per month on average.
The Biggest Photonics Websites
You probably know optics.org, operated by the large institution SPIE over decades. According to their media information of 2014, they got about 108'000 page views per month – certainly respectable, but far behind RP Photonics.
In fact, I'm aware of only a single photonics website reporting more traffic than us: photonics.com with 237'000 page views per month in 2014.
In contrast to others, we publish interesting details concerning how the traffic was spread over different parts of the website:
- The largest traffic driver is the famous Encyclopedia of Laser Physics and Technology, having obtained 181'308 views in March.
- The RP Photonics Buyer's Guide, existing since 2012, got 14'913 views. It happened 8'673 times that a visitor was referred to a supplier's website from there.
By the way, you can always get up-to-date statistical traffic information on our website. That page also tells you how carefully we filter our traffic data, making sure that they are not significantly affected by certain robots, for example.
Comparing with Photonics West
Each year, SPIE organizes Photonics West in San Francisco, the biggest laser show worldwide with a couple of increasingly important conferences around. In 2015, SPIE registered over 21'000 visitors there. It is definitely impressive to see many thousands of visitors walking through the exhibition floors – but keep in mind that we had 100'000 on our website in March alone … So there is one week per year where tens of thousands attend Photonics West, but in each of 52 weeks per year we have on average roughly that amount of traffic on our website.
Advertisers Need to Know Traffic Data – and Think About Them
Statistical data as reported above are most relevant for advertisers. Indeed, RP Photonics does offer online advertising in different forms:
- There are large banners, appearing mostly in the right column of most encyclopedia and buyer's guide pages. These are mostly used by ourselves, but can also be rented by others.
- In the RP Photonics Buyer's Guide, one can have so-called enhanced entries with increased visibility.
With the traffic data above, one can estimate what the value of these offers is. Curiously, it is not published e.g. for photonics.com, as far as I know, which percentage of their traffic relates to their buyer's guide. Concerning transparency, we appear to be leading.
One should also acquire an understanding of what traffic volume one can realistically expect based on what the website offers to their users. In our case, it is the by far most popular encyclopedia in the whole field, creating an invaluable support for many industry people as well as researchers all over the world, and a very handy photonics buyer's guide, providing high-quality information in a nicely presented form. Considering that, one can hardly be surprised about the enormous traffic.
Unfortunately, the large majority of advertisers has not yet realized how attractive our offers are. (One of the problems is that our visitors are mostly the technical people, while the marketing people appear to stroll around somewhere else, not realizing what their target group is using every day.) We regularly see companies spending tens of thousands of dollars per year on print ads in certain journals, where with just a few thousand dollars they could have a great exposure on our website for the whole year.
How the Reputation of Online Marketing is Spoiled
A serious problem is that the reputation of online marketing has been severely hurt by many quite bogus offers. There are certain companies which operate the online marketing for institutions having large websites, trying to monetize the traffic there (and earning their share, of course) – often with rather questionable methods.
A couple of years ago, I myself got convinced that I should spend several thousand dollars for a banner appearing in the Green Photonics Guide which belongs to the OSA website. Monitoring the traffic coming from there, I noticed that it was at least an order of magnitude lower than I could expect based on the claims made when they convinced me on the phone. (I wrote down everything relevant.) When insisting on a clarification, I was finally told that unfortunately there was a bug in their statistic software, leading to unrealistically high traffic numbers. I found that hard to believe for company which operates such buyer's guides on many different websites. Whether or not this is true, it is a disaster. Of course, I informed OSA on that matter; they formally regretted what had happened, but I could until now not convince them that the high reputation of OSA should be protected by ending such practices on their website.
Check the Traffic and Draw Your Consequences!
It is actually amazing that the majority of advertisers seem not to closely check the quality of the offers on which they spend thousands every year. If they did, close to useless banners as mentioned above could never be sold. On the other hand, many companies probably do not know that the RP Photonics website is one of the top ten referrers to their own website – even in many cases where they do not spend a single dollar on enhanced entries or other things on our site. If they knew, probably more of them would be keen to multiply that effect by paying a little. Well, some have got it, and I suppose their number will continue to grow.
Strange Time Dependence of ASE from a Fiber Amplifier
Posted on 2015-03-11 as a part of the Photonics Spotlight.
Permanent link: http://www.rp-photonics.com/spotlight_2015_03_11.html
Imagine that you have an ytterbium-doped fiber amplifier, where you suddenly switch on a constant pump power, and there is no signal input. What would you expect for the time dependence of the amplified spontaneous emission (ASE)? Probably nothing particularly interesting: presumably, that the ASE power is initially extremely weak and then monotonically rises, finally approaching a certain steady-state value within a time which is a few times the upper-state lifetime.
Well, that is all correct, but I guess that you will be quite surprised about some of the details. Let us first start with the pump wavelength of 940 nm. The following diagram shows how the Yb excitation (averaged along the fiber) and the forward and backward ASE powers rise with time. (I have quickly simulated this with our RP Fiber Power software.)
It is quite surprising to see that after half a millisecond, the backward ASE power has already reached ≈86% of its final value, whereas the forward ASE power has just started to come up. So the ratio of forward and backward ASE power changes enormously with time.
One may initially be attempted just not to believe that, but it is indeed possible to find out what happens by looking at some more details. The following diagram shows how the powers are distributed in the fiber after 0.5 ms of pumping:
One can see that backward ASE comes up only quite close to the left end, whereas forward ASE (going from left to right) gets strong in the middle of the fiber but is then mostly reabsorbed before it reaches the right end. This is because the pump power is largely exhausted in the second half of the fiber, so that the ytterbium excitation is low, and the ASE – arising mostly around the strong emission and absorption peak at 975 nm – is strongly reabsorbed. The ASE powers also act back on the ytterbium excitation (via gain saturation), which now leads to a strong spatial dependence on the absorption coefficient for the pump light – which in turn explains the strange position dependence of the pump power. Because overall the ytterbium excitation occurs mostly in the left half of the fiber, the distribution of ASE powers between forward and backward direction is strongly asymmetric. Essentially, backward ASE can profit from significant fluorescence light being generated in the right half (despite negative net gain), whereas forward ASE cannot profit from such an effect.
After 2 ms of pumping, the ytterbium excitation has extended much more into the fiber, because the increasing excitation reduces the pump absorption, so that the pump light can further propagate into the fiber:
The less asymmetric distribution of the ytterbium excitation then also makes the ASE power distribution between forward and backward direction less asymmetric.
Let us now change the pump wavelength from 940 nm to 975 nm. The following diagram can shows the rise of Yb excitation and ASE powers, which however now looks totally different:
After about 0.6 ms, the rise of excitation and ASE powers stops quite suddenly – another strange phenomenon, which was not observed in the previous case. In order to understand this, we again look at the spatial distributions after 2 ms of pumping:
The ytterbium excitation now stays nearly constant at ≈50% throughout the whole fiber, because at 975 nm the emission and absorption cross sections of Yb are both very large and approximately equal; we are in a strongly saturated regime, where a high absorption and stimulated emission rate work against each other, and spontaneous emission and ASE are not very relevant for the Yb excitation. The highly symmetric profile of the Yb excitation leads to nearly identical ASE powers in forward and backward direction. An inspection of the ASE spectra (not shown here) shows that the ASE is now mostly around 1030 nm.
Working Without a Numerical Model?
The shown examples demonstrate that the behavior of such amplifiers is rather complicated – even though I have chosen a really simple case: a single-mode fiber doped with ytterbium, having only two relevant level manifolds, a single pump wavelength and no signal input.
Some people would skip any modeling attempts and just run into the lab, trying out what happens. I doubt that they would have any reasonable chance to find out what is going on here. After all, one can observe the time-dependent output powers, but one cannot look into the fiber in order to inspect the optical powers and excitation densities at all times. (At most, one might observe the time dependence of the fluorescence power outside the fiber at different positions in order to get at least some more inputs for your reasoning.)
It is quite clear that without numerical modeling most people would be confronted with absolutely surprising observations which would make no real sense to them. Under such circumstances, it is hard to either efficiently optimize the operation parameters of an amplifier product or to do proper scientific research; both simply need more insight into what actually happens. A numerical model is by far the best tool to get there; it calculates not only what you can easily observe, but also much more (e.g., what exactly happens inside the fiber). I like to say “a model is transparent” – you can look into everything.
You can now easily guess how I myself acquired a very detailed understanding of lasers and amplifiers: by playing with various models and inspecting their results until I understood everything. One could never get there just by reading textbooks or papers, or by building such devices. Therefore, I also warmly recommend numerical modeling as an excellent tool for educational purposes.
Attenuating Laser Beams – not That Easy
Posted on 2015-02-05 as a part of the Photonics Spotlight.
Permanent link: http://www.rp-photonics.com/spotlight_2015_02_05.html
Ref.: encyclopedia article on optical attenuators
In principle, attenuating a laser beam, i.e., reducing its optical power, is an easy thing: simply send it through a partially absorbing medium, or exploit a partial reflection. In practice, however, various nasty problems can arise, some of which are discussed in the following.
Thermally Induced Distortions
Because laser beams often carry substantial optical powers, absorption of a significant part of that power can lead to substantial thermal effects. Therefore, e.g. absorbing neutral density filters are often not suitable for such purposes: the increased temperature in the glass would lead to strong thermal lensing effects, which can focus the beam and distort its spatial profile.
For higher powers, the glass could even be fractured; a few watts would usually be sufficient for that effect.
For attenuating the output of a single-frequency laser with a moderate optical power (a few hundred milliwatts), I once (being a beginner in the field) used several neutral density filters in series. I was then very astonished and frightened to see the transmitted power dropping strongly within a few seconds after turning on the laser; initially, I thought the laser had been damaged. It turned out that due to the significant reflectivity of these filters, I had actually realized a Fabry–Perot interferometer. When this got into resonance, a relatively high optical power was circulating between the surfaces of two filters, and that heated these filters such that their surfaces were somewhat bulged. That in turn tuned the resonance frequency and thus influenced the circulating power. Due to the resonance effect, the transmitted power was also far higher than expected.
It turned out that I had to somewhat tilt the filters against the beam such that no light could circulate between them. That was an easy measure, but I had already spoiled some spots on the filters by overheating. Only the resonance effect produced enough heat for damage of the parts.
It may sound clever if you utilize not the actual output beam, but rather a parasitic beam getting through a highly reflecting mirror of the laser resonator due to the non-perfect reflectivity. Then you do not have to place additional things into the output beam and do not lose any useful output power.
However, it can be problematic that the residual transmission of a highly reflecting mirror can strongly depend on the exact position on the mirror. Therefore, if you align the laser resonator for maximum power on your photodiode, you may actually spoil the laser alignment because you actually optimize concerning the spot on the mirror having the highest transmission! (If the responsivity of your photodiode is not uniform, e.g. due to damaged spots, you can have the same effect even with perfect beam attenuation.)
Similar problems can occur when you want to measure the laser beam quality. The beam transmitted through a highly reflected mirror may have a better suited power for such a measurement, but can be severely distorted, thus exhibiting a substantially lower beam quality than the actual output beam.
For such reasons, it is better to use several mirrors in series, where each mirror does not attenuate the beam that strongly.
Another seemingly clever idea would be to reflect a linearly polarized laser beam with p polarization at a glass surface, choosing an incidence angle close to Brewster's angle. There, the reflectivity is very small, so that the reflected beam is strongly attenuated.
The caveat is that in this configuration you get a far higher reflectivity for s polarization, and even a nominally p-polarized beam will in practice have some fraction of its power in the other polarization direction. Therefore, the reflected beam may be stronger than you expect, and it may also exhibit a curious beam profile. This is because light in the nominally absent polarization direction often gets there by thermally induced depolarization effects e.g. in a laser crystal, which are not radially symmetric.
Therefore, it is again better to use reflections on subsequent surfaces, where the attenuation per reflection is not too strong.
A common method of obtaining an adjustable degree of attenuation is to use a half waveplate in combination with a polarizer. This works quite well for linearly polarized input beams, but again there are limitations due to non-perfect properties of the waveplate and the polarizer. You may not be able to reliably achieve a very high degree of attenuation, and of course you depend on a stable polarization state of the input.
In some cases, you need to attenuate a laser beam without changing its direction. Many methods of attenuation, however, deflect the beam or at least cause a parallel beam offset, the magnitude of which may vary if you change the degree of attenuation. Some kinds of variable optical attenuators have been constructed where such effects are avoided by compensation. For example, you may have a certain beam offset upon transmission through an angled plate, which is compensated by transmission through another plate oriented at the same angle. Of course, one requires high-quality fine mechanics for preserving the beam direction and position precisely.
2014-10-03: Fiber Optics Tutorials
2014-07-28: How to Define the Mode Radius of a Fiber?
2014-05-16: 10-Year Anniversary of RP Photonics
2014-01-17: Mediation in Disputes on Laser Technology
2013-12-13: Avoiding Trouble with Laser Specifications
2013-11-12: Beam Quality Limit for Multimode Fibers
2013-08-26: Frequency Doubling and the Reverse Process
2013-06-13: Two New Photonics Newsletters
2012-08-06: The New RP Photonics Buyer's Guide
2012-03-12: New Raman Lasers
2012-03-03: Conflicting Definitions of s and p Polarization
2011-12-23: Kerr-lens Mode-locked Thin-disk Laser
2011-06-10: Are Compact Resonators More Stable?
2010-07-12: Laser Development: Get an Expert Early on!
2010-06-09: Poor Man's Isolator
2010-04-26: Resolution and Accuracy of Measurements
2010-04-08: Creating a Top-hat Laser Beam Focus
2010-03-22: All-in-one Concepts versus Modular Concepts
2010-03-09: Nonlinearities in Fiber Amplifier Modeling
2010-01-29: Far From Maturity: The Photonics Industry
2010-01-22: Pumping Fiber Lasers with Fiber Lasers
2010-01-11: Beams of Laser Pointers: Visible in Air?
2009-12-31: Tilt Tuning of Etalons
2009-12-13: Johnson–Nyquist Noise in Photodiode Circuits
2009-11-18: Articles and a Quiz on Photonics Issues
2009-11-13: Photodetection: Optical and Electrical Powers
2009-11-03: Coherent Light from a Bulb?
2009-10-03: Peak Intensity of Gaussian Beam
2009-09-27: Lasers with Short Upper-state Lifetime
2009-09-19: Are Laser Resonators Power Scalable?
2009-09-01: Fresnel Reflections from Double Interfaces
2009-08-14: Progress on Green Laser Diodes
2009-08-12: What is an Optical Transistor?
2009-07-29: No Beat Note for Orthogonal Modes
2009-07-21: Signal-to-Noise Ratio and Measurement Bandwidth
2009-07-09: Gain-guiding Index-antiguiding Fibers
2009-06-29: Doing Things Properly: It's the Economy, Stupid!
2009-06-23: Coherence – a Black-or-White Issue?
2009-06-08: Prizes of the European Physical Society
2009-06-02: 5 Years of RP Photonics Consulting
2009-05-13: The Minimum Time–Bandwidth Product
2009-04-28: SPIE Field Guides
2009-04-05: Stability of Resonators – an Ambiguous Term
2009-03-02: User Interfaces for Simulation Software
2009-01-12: Chaotic Lasing Generates Random Numbers
2009-01-05: Extremely Long Mode-locked Fiber Laser
2008-12-16: Why Fiber Amplifiers, not Fiber Lasers?
2008-11-25: The Gouy Phase Shift Speeds up Light
2008-11-08: Validating Numerical Simulation Software
2008-09-24: Decoupling Pulse Duration and Pulse Energy
2008-09-10: Unpolarized Single-Frequency Output
2008-07-26: Beat Signals with Zero Linewidth
2008-07-02: Stronger Focusing Avoids SESAM Damage
2008-06-20: All-in-One Ultrafast Laser Systems
2008-06-06: Fiber Lasers Which Are No Fiber Lasers
2008-05-25: Einstein and the Laser
2008-05-05: Length of a Photon
2008-04-28: Different Kinds of Polarization
2008-04-22: Abused Photonics Terms: Coherence
2008-04-15: Abused Photonics Terms: Modes
2008-03-10: Automatic Phase Matching
2008-03-04: What is a “High” Laser Beam Quality?
2008-02-14: How Laser Development Can Go Wrong
2008-02-03: Quantifying the Chirp of Ultrashort Pulses
2008-01-27: Beam Quality in Second-Harmonic Generation
2008-01-14: Frequency Doubling: Long Pulses Cause Trouble
2007-12-18: The Role of Laser Safety Goggles
2007-12-03: New Paper on Power Scaling of Lasers
2007-11-26: Solving Laser Problems Step by Step
2007-11-10: Retirement of Prof. David C. Hanna
2007-11-02: Ultrafast Laser Kills Viruses
2007-10-31: Thermal Equilibrium in Laser Crystals
2007-10-25: The Gain Bandwidth of Laser Crystals and Glasses
2007-10-17: Why the Second-Harmonic Beam is Smaller
2007-10-11: Understanding Fourier Spectra
2007-09-21: Optimum Crystal Length for Frequency Doubling
2007-09-07: Power Scaling in Downward Direction
2007-08-27: Distant Healing of Lasers
2007-08-23: An OPO Without Resonator Mirrors
2007-08-15: Light = Electromagnetic Waves?
2007-07-06: Promoting Dangerous Practices in Laser Labs
2007-07-01: Nonsensical Regulations Undermine Laser Safety
2007-06-24: The Plague of a Narrow Emission Linewidth
2007-06-11: Beam Quality Measurements Can Easily Go Wrong
2007-06-01: Characterize Your Pump Beam!
2007-05-19: Why Strong Birefringence in Fibers Helps
2007-04-16: Questions and Answers on Shot Noise
2007-03-23: Explaining the Nature of Photons to Lay Persons
2007-03-11: Divided-Pulse Amplification
2007-03-09: The Trouble with Crystal and Coating Damage
2007-02-26: No Laser, no Result?
2007-02-22: Lossy Laser Cavities
2007-02-16: The Science of Biophotons
2007-02-09: Papers Reporting Yet Another Laser Crystal
2007-02-04: Continuing Struggle for Larger Fiber Mode Areas
2007-01-27: Noise Figure of Amplifiers
2007-01-21: Operation Far Above Threshold
2007-01-15: Origins of Heating in Laser Crystals
2007-01-09: The Myth of Fiber-Optic Polar Bears
2006-12-31: Peak Position of an Optical Spectrum
2006-12-16: Dangerous Green Laser Pointers
2006-12-09: The Laser Industry - High Tech or Low Tech?
2006-12-03: Diffraction in Optical Fibers
2006-11-28: The Role of Diffraction in Optical Resonators
2006-11-21: The Resonator Mystery
2006-11-16: Laser Models - not Always Useful
2006-11-02: Reflection Spectrum of Tilted Dielectric Mirrors
2006-10-22: Lasers Attract Dust to Cavity Mirrors
2006-10-01: Stability Zones of Laser Resonators
2006-09-22: Coherence Length of Ultrashort Pulses
2006-09-16: Q-switched Lasers: YAG versus Vanadate
2006-09-01: Test Yourself with the Photonics Quiz
2006-08-20: Lower Noise from Longer Lasers
2006-08-12: Understanding Quasi-Three-Level Lasers
2006-08-10: Single-Mode Fibers with Large Mode Areas
2006-08-01: Lasers Disturbed by Vacuum?
2006-07-24: Beam Distortions in Laser Cavities
2006-07-23: Single-Atom Lasers
2006-07-22: No Magnetic Field on the Axis of a Coil?
2006-07-16: Spontaneous Emission and Amplifier Noise
2006-07-14: Lasers Like it Cool
2006-07-10: Strength of Thermal Lensing Effects
2006-07-01: Characterizing a Cavity with a Frequency Comb
2006-07-01: With Wavelength Combs to Picometer Resolution