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Intracavity Laser Absorption Spectroscopy

Acronym: ICLAS or ICAS

Definition: a method of laser spectroscopy, based on the evolution of the optical spectrum of intracavity radiation under the influence of narrowband absorption features

More general term: laser absorption spectroscopy

German: Intracavity-Laserabsorptionsspektroskopie

Categories: laser devices and laser physics, methods


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Intracavity laser absorption spectroscopy (ICLAS) is a special laser spectroscopy technique for highly sensitive spectroscopic measurements. The basic principle is as follows. The substance to be evaluated (e.g. some gas sample) is placed within the resonator of a laser, which is preferably based on a gain medium with broad gain bandwidth and a resonator with low losses. When the laser is turned on, it starts to oscillate on many resonator modes simultaneously; only after many resonator round trips will the optical spectrum of the generated light strongly concentrate to the spectral region with highest gain. During this evolution, weak absorption features of the tested sample can imprint signatures on the spectrum because they can influence the spectrum during many round trips. A measurement of the spectrum is done some time after switching on the laser; this time should be long enough to allow for strong spectral features to develop, but also short enough to prevent too strong narrowing of the spectrum caused by the finite gain bandwidth.

With a carefully optimized setup, intracavity absorption spectroscopy allows for extremely long effective path lengths of tens of thousands of kilometers, and at the same time very high spectral resolution. Suitable laser gain media for the spectroscopy of gases include neodymium-doped fibers and bulk glasses, titanium-doped sapphire, laser dyes, color center crystals, laser diodes, and vertical external cavity surface-emitting lasers. Important issues are to have a broad and flat gain spectrum (not only a large gain bandwidth), to minimize resonator losses, and to avoid any parasitic reflections within the laser resonator. A review paper [6] explains in detail many technical issues and variations of the basic technique.

Applications of ICLAS

ICLAS can be applied in various fields where high sensitivity, specificity and selectivity are important – for example in the following:

  • environmental monitoring: detect and quantify pollutants and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere
  • industrial process monitoring: monitor trace gases in industrial processes, such as combustion, chemical reactions, and gas production
  • medical diagnostics: detecting trace gases in exhaled breath that can indicate various medical conditions, such as asthma, lung cancer, and diabetes
  • homeland security: detect and identifying trace gases that may indicate the presence of explosives, narcotics, or chemical warfare agents


[1]L. A. Pakhomycheva et al., “Line structure of generation spectra of lasers with inhomogeneous broadening of the amplification line”, JETP Lett. 12, 43 (1970)
[2]H. J. Kimble, “Calculated enhancement for intracavity spectroscopy with single-mode laser”, IEEE J. Quantum Electron. 16 (4), 455 (1980), DOI:10.1109/JQE.1980.1070507
[3]R. Bohm et al., “Intracavity absorption spectroscopy with Nd3+-doped fiber laser”, Opt. Lett. 18 (22), 1955 (1993), DOI:10.1364/OL.18.001955
[4]K. J. Boller and T. Schroeder, “Demonstration of broadband intracavity spectroscopy in a pulsed optical parametric oscillator of beta-barium borate”, J. Opt. Soc. Am. B 10 (9), 1778 (1993), DOI:10.1364/JOSAB.10.001778
[5]A. Kachanov et al., “Intracavity laser spectroscopy with vibronic solid-state lasers: I. Spectro-temporal transient behaviour of a Ti:sapphire laser”, J. Opt. Soc. Am. B 11 (12), 2412 (1994), DOI:10.1364/JOSAB.11.002412
[6]V. M. Baev, “Laser intracavity absorption spectroscopy”, Appl. Phys. B 69, 171 (1999), DOI:10.1007/s003400050793
[7]A. Garnache et al., “High-sensitivity intracavity laser absorption spectroscopy with vertical-external-cavity surface-emitting semiconductor lasers”, Opt. Lett. 24 (12), 826 (1999), DOI:10.1364/OL.24.000826
[8]J. Cheng et al., “Infrared intracavity laser absorption spectroscopy with a continuous-scan Fourier-transform interferometer”, Appl. Opt. 39 (13), 2221 (2000), DOI:10.1364/AO.39.002221

See also: laser absorption spectroscopy, laser spectroscopy, lasers, laser resonators, gain bandwidth

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