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Nonlinear Frequency Conversion

Definition: the conversion of input light to light of other frequencies, using optical nonlinearities

More general term: nonlinear effects

More specific terms: frequency doubling, frequency tripling, frequency quadrupling, sum and difference frequency generation, optical rectification, supercontinuum generation, optical parametric oscillation and generation, stimulated Raman scattering, high harmonic generation

German: nichtlineare Frequenzkonversion

Category: nonlinear optics

How to cite the article; suggest additional literature


Not all wavelength regions of interest are directly accessible with lasers. Therefore, it is common e.g. to generate visible light by nonlinear conversion of infrared light from one or several lasers.

Examples of nonlinear conversion processes are:

Many but not all of these processes can be efficient only with phase matching and with polarized light. Laser radiation is usually polarized, but some devices (e.g. some high-power fiber lasers and amplifiers) do not emit with a stable linear polarization state and are therefore not very suitable for nonlinear frequency conversion.

Efficient Conversion at High Optical Intensities

As nonlinear frequency conversion can be efficient only at sufficiently high optical intensities, the intensities often have to be increased with one or several of the following methods:

Applicable intensities are often limited by the damage threshold of the materials. There are situations where this limitation does not allow one to achieve highly efficient frequency conversion. An example is frequency doubling of ultrashort pulses into the ultraviolet spectral region, where the large group velocity mismatch limits the interaction length while the damage threshold is relatively low.

Design Issues

The design of nonlinear frequency conversion devices can involve subtle issues. For devices based on parametric nonlinearities, there can be beam quality effects due to spatial walk-off, gain guiding, pump depletion and backconversion. Such effects can be investigated with numerical computer models, which can simulate the evolution of the spatial (and possibly temporal) profiles of the interacting beams. Particularly for the conversion of ultrashort pulses, there is a wide range of phenomena which should be properly understood in order to avoid a range of problems.

The complexity of the nonlinear interactions, together with limitations of the available know-how in the photonics industry, is probably preventing many useful applications. For example, more dye lasers could be replaced with optical parametric oscillators.


The RP Photonics Buyer's Guide contains 30 suppliers for nonlinear frequency conversion equipment. Among them:

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[1]G. D. Boyd and D. A. Kleinman, “Parametric interaction of focused Gaussian light beams”, J. Appl. Phys. 39 (8), 3597 (1968), doi:10.1063/1.1656831 (a seminal work with a comprehensive quantitative discussion)
[2]R. L. Sutherland, Handbook of Nonlinear Optics, 2nd edn., Marcel Dekker, New York (2003)
[3]A. V. Smith, SNLO software for simulating nonlinear frequency conversion in crystals, free download, http://www.as-photonics.com/snlo, from AS-Photonics
[4]A. V. Smith, Crystal nonlinear optics with SNLO examples, ISBN 978-0-692-40044-9, http://www.as-photonics.com/products/crystal-nonlinear-optics-book

(Suggest additional literature!)

See also: frequency doubling, frequency tripling, frequency quadrupling, sum and difference frequency generation, optical rectification, optical parametric oscillators, optical parametric amplifiers, optical parametric generators, supercontinuum generation, high harmonic generation, RGB sources, Raman lasers, nonlinear crystal materials, nonlinear optics, nonlinear polarization, ultraviolet light, terahertz radiation, The Photonics Spotlight 2007-03-05, The Photonics Spotlight 2007-09-21
and other articles in the category nonlinear optics

Dr. R. Paschotta

This encyclopedia is authored by Dr. Rüdiger Paschotta, the founder and executive of RP Photonics Consulting GmbH. How about a tailored training course from this distinguished expert at your location? Contact RP Photonics to find out how his technical consulting services (e.g. product designs, problem solving, independent evaluations, training) and software could become very valuable for your business!


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