RP Photonics

Encyclopedia … combined with a great Buyer's Guide!


Two-photon Absorption

Acronym: TPA

Definition: a nonlinear absorption process where two photons are simultaneously absorbed

German: Zweiphotonenabsorption

Category: physical foundations

How to cite the article; suggest additional literature

Two-photon absorption is a process where two photons are absorbed simultaneously, exciting e.g. an atom or ion to a higher-lying state, with the energy increase being equal to the sum of the photon energies. This is a nonlinear process, occurring with significant rates only at high optical intensities, because the absorption coefficient is proportional to the optical intensity:

TPA absorption coefficient

The absorbed power is thus proportional to the square of the optical input power.

Two-photon absorption is the simplest variant of multiphoton absorption.

two-photon absorption in a semiconductor
Figure 1: Two-photon absorption in a semiconductor allows for absorption of light even if the photon energy is below the bandgap energy.

In an insulator or semiconductor, two-photon absorption can normally occur only if the photon energy is at least half the bandgap energy. Therefore, there are e.g. no losses via two-photon absorption when ultrashort pulses at 800 nm wavelength propagate in a silica fiber. On the other hand, two-photon absorption at the same wavelength can occur in semiconductors such as GaAs, having a much smaller bandgap. This is used e.g. in compact autocorrelators for pulse duration measurements: a photodiode which is normally not sensitive at the laser wavelength exhibits a photocurrent only due to TPA.

The phenomenon of two-photon absorption finds applications in various technical areas. For example, it is used in simple autocorrelators for pulse characterization, where TPA in a photodiode, having a bandgap energy larger than the photon energy, is exploited to obtain a nonlinear response. Also, two-photon absorption is often used in fluorescence microscopy (two-photon microscopy) for exciting fluorescence with an infrared laser beam, which can easily penetrate the sample. In other cases, TPA is exploited for optical power limiting or for microfabrication. Under certain circumstances (illumination with ultrashort pulses), it is even possible that the human eye responds to infrared light due to two-photon absorption processes in the retina [7].

Detrimental TPA effects can occur for nonlinear frequency conversion of ultrashort pulses in nonlinear crystal materials, particularly for conversion of short wavelengths, e.g. in UV sources. The transmission of pulsed pump light (or e.g. frequency-doubled light) is then significantly lower than for continuous-wave radiation with the same average power. In some materials, the generation of free carriers via TPA can cause photodarkening. TPA can also modify the saturation characteristics of saturable absorbers such as SESAMs, leading to a roll-over of the saturation curve which can help e.g. to suppress Q-switching instabilities.


 [1]W. Kaiser and C. G. B. Garrett, “Two-photon excitation in CaF2:Eu2+”, Phys. Rev. Lett. 7 (6), 229 (1961) (first experimental demonstration of two-photon absorption)
[2]E. W. Van Stryland et al., “Energy band-gap dependence of two-photon absorption”, Opt. Lett. 10 (10), 490 (1985)
[3]M. Sheik-Bahae et al., “Dispersion and band-gap scaling of the electronic Kerr effect in solids associated with two-photon absorption”, Phys. Rev. Lett. 65 (1), 96 (1990)
[4]E. R. Thoen et al., “Two-photon absorption in semiconductor saturable absorber mirrors”, Appl. Phys. Lett. 74, 3927 (1999)
[5]F. R. Ahmad et al., “Energy limits imposed by two-photon absorption for pulse amplification in high-power semiconductor optical amplifiers”, Opt. Lett. 33 (10), 1041 (2008)
[6]M. Rumi and J. W. Perry, “Two-photon absorption: an overview of measurements and principles”, Advances in Optics and Photonics 2 (4), 451 (2010)
[7]P. Artal et al., “Visual acuity in two-photon infrared vision”, Optica 4 (12), 1488 (2017)

(Suggest additional literature!)

See also: multiphoton absorption, nonlinearities
and other articles in the category physical foundations

How do you rate this article?

Click here to send us your feedback!

Your general impression: don't know poor satisfactory good excellent
Technical quality: don't know poor satisfactory good excellent
Usefulness: don't know poor satisfactory good excellent
Readability: don't know poor satisfactory good excellent

Found any errors? Suggestions for improvements? Do you know a better web page on this topic?

Spam protection: (enter the value of 5 + 8 in this field!)

If you want a response, you may leave your e-mail address in the comments field, or directly send an e-mail.

If you enter any personal data, this implies that you agree with storing it; we will use it only for the purpose of improving our website and possibly giving you a response; see also our declaration of data privacy.

If you like our website, you may also want to get our newsletters!

If you like this article, share it with your friends and colleagues, e.g. via social media: