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Pulse Compression

Definition: linear or nonlinear techniques for reducing the durations of optical pulses

More specific terms: adiabatic soliton compression, dispersive pulse compression, nonlinear pulse compression, soliton compression

Opposite term: pulse stretching

German: Pulskompression, Pulsverkürzung

Categories: light pulseslight pulses, methodsmethods


Cite the article using its DOI: https://doi.org/10.61835/cb7

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There is variety of methods for temporally compressing (shortening) light pulses, i.e., reducing the pulse duration. Typically, such methods start in the picosecond or femtosecond region, i.e. already in the regime of ultrashort pulses. These methods can be grouped into two categories:

A special case is compression using a chirped QPM structure [21]. Here, a <$\chi^{(2)}$> nonlinearity is used not for spectral broadening, but rather for frequency-converting a strongly chirped pulse such that the converted pulse is not chirped and thus much shorter.

Methods for Nonlinear Pulse Compression

Nonlinear pulse compression can be done with different configurations of optical elements, and with methods which are based on different physical principles. Some examples are:

pulse compression with a fiber and a dispersive compressor
Figure 1: Setup for pulse compression with a normally dispersive fiber and a dispersive compressor.
  • Originally unchirped pulses can be spectrally broadened by propagation in a normally dispersive optical fiber and then dispersively compressed as discussed above in the context of linear pulse compression [8]. The fibers used for spectral broadening may be standard optical fibers, photonic crystal fibers, hollow-core fibers, or hollow capillary fibers (for extremely intense pulses, see below). It is possible e.g. to start with picosecond pulses from a mode-locked Nd:YAG laser and reach pulse durations far below 1 ps, or to generate few-cycle pulses starting from pulses with e.g. 50 fs duration. Note that the pulse energy can in principle be fully preserved, although substantial parasitic losses are often encountered in practice.
  • For high-intensity femtosecond pulses, the spectral broadening can be performed in a gas-filled hollow fiber or capillary [17]. Most of the optical power propagates in the gas, where self-phase modulation occurs. (The regime with ionization of the gas is avoided by staying at sufficiently low intensities.) Subsequent dispersive compression can be done, e.g., with double-chirped mirrors or some other kind of dispersive mirrors. This method is suitable e.g. for compressing 20-fs pulses with millijoule energies down to a few femtoseconds.
  • After spectral broadening with a nonlinearity as described above, pulses can also be shorted by sending them through a suitable bandpass filter (and no dispersive element), if the filter bandwidth is well below the pulse bandwidth [44]. That kind of compression is of course associated with a substantial loss of pulse energy.
pulse compression with a fiber
Figure 2: Setup for pulse compression with a fiber only. The compression mechanism could be higher-order soliton compression or adiabatic soliton compression.
  • In higher-order soliton compression [5, 40], a pulse with an energy far above the fundamental soliton energy is injected into a fiber with anomalous dispersion. After a certain propagation distance, a strongly compressed pulse can be obtained, but the choice of propagation distance can be critical. The pulse energy can be roughly one to two orders of magnitude above that of a fundamental soliton.
  • In adiabatic soliton compression [10, 12], a soliton pulse is compressed during propagation in a fiber the anomalous dispersion of which becomes weaker and weaker along the propagation direction. Alternatively, the pulse energy can be increased by amplification in a doped fiber with constant dispersion properties. The pulse energy is fairly limited due to the small soliton pulse energies of typical fibers.
pulse compression with similariton pulse propagation
Figure 3: Setup for pulse compression with similariton pulse propagation.

While the pulse is amplified in a rare-earth-doped fiber, its duration and spectral width both increase. A dispersive compressor can subsequently reduce the pulse duration strongly.

  • In a fiber amplifier with normal dispersion, self-similar parabolic pulses experience spectral broadening while a high pulse quality is preserved [16]. The parameters of the input signal pulses are fairly uncritical, and high pulse energies are possible. The resulting linear chirp makes it relatively easy to obtain strong temporal compression in a subsequent dispersive optical element.
  • Pulse compression can also occur during nonlinear frequency conversion [11, 21, 25, 32]. Under certain circumstances, frequency doublers or optical parametric oscillators can emit pulses which are much shorter than the pump pulses.
  • When high-intensity few-cycle femtosecond pulses are injected into a gas jet, high harmonic generation can occur, and under certain circumstances pulse durations of a few hundred attoseconds are achieved [23, 24]. The underlying physical mechanism is completely different to that of other methods of pulse compression.

Which of these methods is most suitable depends on a number of circumstances, including the initial and required pulse duration, the pulse energy, and the demands on pulse quality.

case study pulse compression

Case Studies

Case Study: Nonlinear Pulse Compression in a Fiber

We explore how we can spectrally broaden light pulses by self-phase modulation in a fiber and subsequently compress the pulses using a dispersive element. A substantial reduction in pulse duration by more than an order of magnitude is easily achieved, while the pulse quality is often not ideal.

case study fiber cpa

Case Studies

Case Study: Chirped-pulse Ytterbium-doped Fiber Amplifier System

We design an ytterbium-doped chirped-pulse fiber amplifier system. We investigate how the remaining nonlinear effects limit the possible performance parameters.

Pulse compression setups can be analyzed and optimized using pulse propagation modeling.

prism compressor demo
Figure 4: Simulation widget from 3DOptix, demonstrating a prism compressor. Click on the preview image to load the simulation.

More to Learn

Case studies:

Encyclopedia articles:


The RP Photonics Buyer's Guide contains 24 suppliers for pulse compressors. Among them:


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