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Amplified Spontaneous Emission

Acronym: ASE

Definition: a process where spontaneously emitted radiation (luminescence) is amplified

Alternative term: superluminescence

German: verstärkte Spontanemission

Categories: laser devices and laser physicslaser devices and laser physics, optical amplifiersoptical amplifiers, quantum opticsquantum optics, fluctuations and noisefluctuations and noise


Cite the article using its DOI: https://doi.org/10.61835/qf7

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In a laser gain medium with large gain, the luminescence (most often fluorescence) from spontaneous emission can be amplified to high power levels. This amplified luminescence may be used in applications where light with low temporal coherence but good spatial coherence (see below) is required. It also occurs in lasers, even when operated below the laser threshold.

Whereas luminescence originally goes in all spatial directions, ASE can be strongly directional for gain media with a large aspect ratio. As an extreme case, consider a fiber laser or fiber amplifier, where ASE propagating along the fiber can be much more powerful than the omnidirectional luminescent emission.

Particularly in high-gain amplifiers, amplified spontaneous emission is usually an unwanted effect. It tends to limit the gain achievable in a single stage of a fiber amplifier to the order of 40–50 dB. Higher gain values are possible, e.g. for the amplification of pulses, if several amplifier stages are used, which are separated by filters, Faraday isolators, and/or optical modulators (switches). Particularly in some fiber lasers, ASE can prevent lasing at extreme wavelengths, if the gain at other wavelengths is high enough for generating strong ASE. Such problems can often be overcome by optimizing the overall laser design, with special attention to fiber length, doping level and the like, and ASE at unwanted wavelengths may be suppressed with certain fiber designs (e.g. photonic crystal fibers) exhibiting high propagation losses outside the desired spectral region. Similar challenges arise in the context of some bulk lasers, e.g., Nd:YAG lasers operating at 946 nm, where strong ASE at 1064 nm can suppress 946-nm lasing.

Even if amplified spontaneous emission in an amplifier is not strong enough to extract significant power, it can contribute significantly to the noise of the amplified signal. The noise figure of a laser amplifier can be considered to be limited by ASE. Note that for quasi-three-level laser gain media, this ASE effect is stronger than for four-level media.

ASE spectrum of ytterbium-doped fiber amplifier
Figure 1: ASE spectra of forward and backward ASE in a forward-pumped ytterbium-doped fiber amplifier, calculated with the RP Fiber Power software.

Particularly in quasi-three-level gain media, ASE spectra can strongly differ from the spectrum of spontaneous emission, and can be substantially dependent on the propagation direction.

As shown in Figure 1, the spectrum of ASE in the output of a rare-earth-doped fiber amplifier can differ strongly from that of the fluorescence leaving the fiber in a transverse direction. This is because of wavelength-dependent amplification and reabsorption. (The latter occurs only for quasi-three-level laser gain media.) Furthermore, ASE powers emitted in forward and backward direction in a fiber amplifier can differ. Usually, ASE is stronger in the direction opposite to that of pumping. Finally, the spectral shape of ASE can depend on the pump intensity level. An example simulation is shown in Figure 2 for an Yb-doped fiber. The higher the average Yb excitation, the shorter is the peak wavelength of ASE because for lower excitation the shorter-wavelength ASE is attenuated strongly by reabsorption. For fluorescence light radiated to the side of the fiber, that effect would not be seen.

case study ASE in Yb fibers

Case Studies

Case Study: ASE in Ytterbium-doped Fibers

We study various aspects of amplified spontaneous emission (ASE) in ytterbium-doped fibers – for example, why it is different in forward and backward direction, how the fiber length can have a crucial impact, and how the fiber core diameter matters.

ASE spectra of ytterbium-doped fiber amplifier
Figure 2: Spectra of backward ASE in the same fiber amplifier as that of Figure 1, calculated for different pump power levels. With increasing power, the spectrum shifts toward shorter wavelengths (where the gain grows more quickly) and becomes narrower.

Interesting aspects come into play when ASE occurs in waveguide structures such as fibers. For example, the amount of ASE into a single-mode core does not depend on the detailed waveguide parameters (e.g., on the core diameter and numerical aperture). Contrary to a common belief, the ASE power depends only on the number of modes, not on particular mode properties (except for propagation losses). Considerations involving some “capture fraction” for spontaneous emission, which is limited by the condition of total internal reflection, are appropriate only for strongly multimode waveguides, but not for few-mode or single-mode situations. (See the Photonics Spotlight of 2007-08-06 for details.) Some fiber amplifier models are wrong in this respect.

ASE is sometimes also called superluminescence, and correspondingly there is the term superluminescent sources (also ASE sources or white light sources) for light sources emitting superluminescent radiation. Such broadband (but usually spatially coherent) sources are useful for a number of applications.

In lasers, ASE is usually quite weak, thus not extracting substantial amounts of optical power, since the laser gain is typically not as large as the gain in a fiber amplifier, for example. It usually does not have a significant influence on the laser efficiency. However, it contributes to laser noise.

In the context of free electron lasers, the term self-amplified spontaneous emission (SASE) is common. (The addition of “self” emphasizes that the amplification occurs in the same device which produced the spontaneous emission.) Such devices do not have a laser resonator, but generate only strong ASE; the ASE is considered as the laser output, rather than a phenomenon competing with it.

A phenomenon related to ASE, but with important physical differences, is superfluorescence.

spectrum of ASE powers with signal-pass gain spectrum
Figure 3: The output spectra of forward and backward ASE of an erbium-doped fiber amplifier. As the gain for long-wave signals (blue marked region) is substantially lower than at shorter wavelengths, short-wavelength ASE is a substantial performance limitation in this case.
case study edfa lw signal

Case Studies

Case Study: Erbium-doped Fiber Amplifier for a Long-wavelength Signal

Amplified spontaneous emission (ASE) turns out to be a limiting factor, requiring a dual-stage amplifier design.

Coherence Properties of Amplified Spontaneous Emission

The temporal coherence of ASE can be very low, if its bandwidth is large. In the time domain, the associated electric field exhibits fast random fluctuations, i.e., it has a rather short coherence time and coherence length. In the frequency domain, this corresponds to a large optical bandwidth. That bandwidth can be of the order of the gain bandwidth, but particularly in high-gain situations it is often substantially smaller than that.

The spatial coherence of ASE depends strongly on the circumstances. ASE from a short laser crystal, which is pumped with a large mode area, can have quite low spatial coherence, as the effective laser gain in substantially different propagation directions can be similar. On the other hand, ASE from a rare-earth-doped single-mode fiber can exhibit essentially perfect spatial coherence. This implies that such ASE can be well focused to a very small spot if suitable focusing optics (with low chromatic aberrations) are used.


tutorial fiber amplifiers

Fiber Amplifiers
Part 4: Amplified Spontaneous Emission

Amplified spontaneous emission mostly arises from a high amplifier gain, but it also depends on other important factors, such as the pump wavelength.

Is Amplified Spontaneous Emission Unavoidable?

As ASE ultimately arises from a quantum effect (spontaneous emission), it is an unavoidable amplifier noise effect. Any phase-insensitive amplifier must at least add as much excess noise to a signal as corresponds to ASE in an ideal four-level laser amplifier. However, ASE may be above that quantum-mechanical limit, e.g. if one uses a (quasi)-three-level amplifier system and/or there are additional propagation losses (from absorption or scattering) within the amplifier. See the article on amplifier noise for more details.

More to Learn


Case studies:

Encyclopedia articles:

Blog articles:


[1]N. P. Barnes and B. M. Walsh, “Amplified spontaneous emission – application to Nd:YAG lasers”, IEEE J. Quantum Electron.35 (1), 101 (1999); https://doi.org/10.1109/3.737626
[2]M. Blazek et al., “Unifying intensity noise and second-order coherence properties of amplified spontaneous emission sources”, Opt. Lett. 36 (17), 3455 (2011); https://doi.org/10.1364/OL.36.003455
[3]S. Keppler et al., “The generation of amplified spontaneous emission in high-power CPA laser systems”, Laser & Photonics Reviews 10 (2), 264 (2016); https://doi.org/10.1002/lpor.201500186

(Suggest additional literature!)

Questions and Comments from Users


According to what you have written above, the temporal coherence of ASE is typically low. How would the temporal coherence change when the output power is increased in a homogeneously broadened medium?

The author's answer:

It depends on the gain bandwidth of the amplifier. If the spectral width is reduced, the temporal coherence gets stronger.


When the output power of a laser is measured, does that include the power of ASE?

The author's answer:

Generally yes, but ASE will usually contribute only a very tiny fraction of the total optical power.


In a dye laser, ASE and lasing are competing processes. Which parameters can be controlled to minimize ASE and maximize lasing?

The author's answer:

The most important parameter for ASE is the gain: ASE becomes weak if the gain is e.g. below 30 dB. That is easily achieved by keeping the round-trip losses of the laser well below 30 dB, so that the saturated laser gain and thus also the ASE gain remain moderate.

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