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Ceramic Laser Gain Media

Definition: laser gain media which have a ceramic (polycrystalline) microscopic structure

More general term: solid-state laser gain media

German: keramische Verstärkungsmedien

Categories: optical materials, laser devices and laser physics


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Traditionally, solid-state laser gain media have been made either of crystals or glasses. In the case of crystals, these were typically single crystals (i.e., with a uniform crystal lattice throughout a large piece) because polycrystalline media usually exhibit strong scattering at domain boundaries. However, beginning in the 1990s, scattering losses of polycrystalline media with very small domains – called ceramics – have been greatly reduced with refined fabrication techniques, in particular with vacuum sintering. When the procedure is started with very small particles in the powders used and a refined treatment generates nanoparticles with a well-controlled size distribution, very small crystallites and very low porosity result, leading to scattering losses which are not significantly larger than for single crystals. This has been achieved in particular for YAG (yttrium aluminum garnet). Neodymium-doped YAG ceramics now allow for essentially the same laser efficiency as Nd:YAG single crystals. The same holds for some ytterbium-doped laser gain media. Ceramics are also suitable for vibronic laser gain media such as Cr2+:ZnSe.

Ceramic laser gain media offer a number of important advantages over single crystals:

  • Their fabrication can be significantly cheaper, particularly for large pieces.
  • Ceramic gain media can be fabricated with arbitrary shapes and size, whereas single-crystal growth techniques (e.g. the Czochralski method) set limits on the possible size.
  • Ceramics are well suited to produce composite gain media, consisting e.g. of parts with different doping levels, or even different dopants. It is also possible to include a saturable absorber section for passive Q switching [11].
  • Spatially varying doping profiles are relatively easily possible. These aspects give additional freedom in laser design.
  • For neodymium-doped and ytterbium-doped YAG ceramics, a significantly higher doping concentration can be achieved without quenching effects degrading the laser efficiency.
  • Some optical materials, e.g. yttria (Y2O3), scandia (Sc2O3) and other sesquioxides with their high melting temperatures, are very difficult to grow into single crystals, and much easier to obtain in ceramic form because the sintering temperature can be much lower than the melting temperature [8]. The high thermal conductivity of Y2O3 and Sc2O3 could make these materials preferable to YAG.

For these reasons, it is conceivable that ceramic gain media will in many cases replace single crystals, particularly in high-volume applications and those which need large gain media.

Note that ceramics are interesting for laser construction not only when used as gain media. Some ceramic media, such as aluminum nitride ceramic, have a very high thermal conductivity while being excellent electrical insulators. This makes them interesting for heat sinks of high-power laser diodes.


[1]E. Carnall et al., “Optical studies on hot-pressed. polycrystalline CaF2 with clean grain boundaries”, Mater. Sci. Res. 3, 165 (1966)
[2]A. Ikesue et al., “Fabrication and optical properties of high-performance polycrystalline Nd:YAG ceramics for solid-state lasers”, J. Am. Ceram. Soc. 78, 1033 (1995), DOI:10.1111/j.1151-2916.1995.tb08433.x
[3]J. Lu et al., “Optical properties and highly efficient laser oscillation of Nd:YAG ceramics”, Appl. Phys. B 71, 469 (2000), DOI:10.1007/s003400000394
[4]G. A. Kumar et al., “Spectroscopic and stimulated emission characteristics of Nd3+ in transparent YAG ceramics”, IEEE J. Quantum Electron. 40, 747 (2004), DOI:10.1109/JQE.2004.828263
[5]J. Lu et al., “Neodymium doped yttrium aluminum garnet (Y3Al5O12) nanocrystalline ceramics – a new generation of solid-state laser and optical materials”, J. Alloy. Compd. 341, 220 (2002)
[6]Y. Qi et al., “Nd:YAG ceramic laser obtained high slope-efficiency of 62% in high power applications”, Opt. Express 13 (22), 8725 (2005), DOI:10.1364/OPEX.13.008725
[7]L. D. Merkle et al., “Concentration quenching in fine-grained ceramic Nd:YAG”, Opt. Express 14 (9), 3893 (2006), DOI:10.1364/OE.14.003893
[8]J. Kong et al., “High-efficiency 1040 and 1078 nm laser emission of a Yb:Y2O3 ceramic laser with 976 nm diode pumping”, Opt. Lett. 32 (3), 247 (2007), DOI:10.1364/OL.32.000247
[9]T. Taira, “RE3+-ion-doped YAG ceramic lasers”, JSTQE 13 (3), 798 (2007), DOI:10.1109/JSTQE.2007.897174
[10]J. Dong et al., “Laser-diode pumped heavy-doped Yb.YAG ceramic lasers”, Opt. Lett. 32 (13), 1890 (2007), DOI:10.1364/OL.32.001890
[11]J. Dong et al., “Composite Yb:YAG/Cr4+:YAG ceramics picosecond microchip lasers”, Opt. Express 15 (22), 14516 (2007), DOI:10.1364/OE.15.014516
[12]M. O. Ramirez et al., “Three-dimensional grain boundary spectroscopy in transparent high power ceramic laser materials”, Opt. Express 16 (9), 5965 (2008), DOI:10.1364/OE.16.005965
[13]A. Ikesue and Y. L. Aung, “Ceramic laser materials”, Nature Photon. 2, 721 (2008), DOI:10.1038/nphoton.2008.243
[14]S. Esser et al., “Ceramic Yb:Lu2O3 thin-disk laser oscillator delivering an average power exceeding 1 kW in continuous-wave operation”, Opt. Lett. 46 (24), 6063 (2021), DOI:10.1364/OL.445637

See also: laser gain media, laser crystals, laser glasses, neodymium-doped laser gain media, high-power lasers, optical materials, scattering

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