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Pulse Characterization

Definition: the measurement of various properties of an optical pulse

More specific terms: pulse duration measurement, carrier–envelope frequency measurement

German: Pulscharakterisierung, Pulsvermessung

Categories: light detection and characterization, optical metrology, light pulses

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URL: https://www.rp-photonics.com/pulse_characterization.html

Optical pulses and regular optical pulse trains can be characterized in various respects:

There are methods of complete pulse characterization [5], which reveal the electric field versus time or the complex spectrum (including spectral shape and spectral phase) of ultrashort pulses. The most prominent techniques for this purpose are FROG (frequency-resolved optical gating [2]) and SPIDER (spectral phase interferometry for direct electric-field reconstruction [8], → spectral phase interferometry). The results can be visualized in various ways, e.g. with graphs of time- or frequency-dependent functions, or with spectrograms.

Note that apart from the temporal aspect, there is also the spatial aspect [15]. Both aspects are often approximately separated in the sense that the whole spatio-temporal profile of the electric field of a pulse can be specified as the product of two functions, one depending only on time and the other only on the spatial position. However, a significant coupling of temporal and spatial properties can occur in various situations. For example, pulses from Kerr lens mode-locked lasers often exhibit a time-dependent beam radius, which makes the complete characterization (and modeling) very challenging. Another spatio-temporal aspect is pulse front tilt, which is related to angular dispersion and can, e.g., result from a misaligned pulse compressor.


Accurate and reliable pulse characterization is essential for many applications. For example, if an ultrafast laser system does not work properly, e.g., due to misalignment of components, this can greatly affect the operation of a larger system. The problem can be located and fixed only if the pulse properties can be monitored.

Particularly careful pulse characterization may be required in the laser development, where various effects on the pulse formation need to be investigated.


The RP Photonics Buyer's Guide contains 32 suppliers for pulse characterization instruments. Among them:

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(Suggest additional literature!)

See also: light pulses, spectral phase, carrier–envelope offset, autocorrelators, frequency-resolved optical gating, spectral phase interferometry, streak cameras
and other articles in the categories light detection and characterization, optical metrology, light pulses


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