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Ultrafast Lasers

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Definition: lasers emitting ultrashort pulses

German: Ultrakurzpulslaser

Categories: lasers, light pulses

How to cite the article; suggest additional literature

The term ultrafast lasers is often used for mode-locked lasers emitting ultrashort pulses, i.e. pulses with durations of femtoseconds or picoseconds (typically, below 100 ps). A more precise term is actually ultrashort pulse lasers; such lasers utilize ultrafast processes, but are not ultrafast themselves. These are nearly always mode-locked lasers, although e.g. gain switching can also provide ultrashort pulses.

Types of Ultrafast Lasers

The most important types of ultrafast lasers are briefly listed in the following:

An ultrafast laser oscillator can be part of an ultrafast laser system which may also contain an ultrafast amplifier (e.g. a fiber amplifier) in order to increase the peak power and average output power.

Physical Phenomena

The following phenomena of ultrafast optics and ultrafast laser physics are most relevant in ultrashort pulse lasers:

The research area of ultrafast lasers and their applications is called ultrafast laser physics and ultrafast optics. It deals with all kinds of effects occurring in these lasers, but also with phenomena which can be investigated using ultrashort laser pulses. Examples of such application areas are high-intensity physics (→ high harmonic generation), frequency metrology, laser spectroscopy, and terahertz science. There is also a wide range of industrial applications, which have become more attractive with the advent of compact, powerful and cost-effective mode-locked lasers, and includes such diverse areas as femtosecond material processing (particularly micromachining, waveguide writing), medical treatments (e.g. in ophthalmology), laser microscopy and tomography, metrology (e.g. with frequency combs), characterization of high-speed electronics with electro-optic sampling, terahertz spectroscopy via optical sampling, and optical fiber communications.

Developments in the Field of Ultrashort Pulse Generation

The field of ultrashort pulse generation has had roughly three decades to develop and can thus be considered relatively mature. Some of the most important developments which are more or less finished are listed in the following:

Further developments can be expected in the near future:

Concerning applications, it is to be expected that many more ideas will be generated. Note that certain parameter regions have only recently be accessible with laser sources, so that those working on the application side can start thinking about using such sources, some of which should soon become commercially available. It appears realistic to expect that ultrafast technology will gain further importance and permit new exciting developments.


The RP Photonics Buyer's Guide contains 45 suppliers for ultrafast lasers. Among them:


[1]F. Krausz et al., “Femtosecond solid-state lasers”, IEEE J. Quantum Electron. 28 (10), 2097 (1992)
[2]P. J. Delfyett et al., “High-power ultrafast laser diodes”, IEEE J. Quantum Electron. 28 (10), 2203 (1992)
[3]P. M. W. French, “The generation of ultrashort laser pulses”, Rep. Prog. Phys. 58, 169 (1995)
[4]S. Backus et al., “High power ultrafast lasers”, Rev. Sci. Instrum. 69, 1207 (1998)
[5]D. H. Sutter et al., “Semiconductor saturable-absorber mirror-assisted Kerr lens modelocked Ti:sapphire laser producing pulses in the two-cycle regime”, Opt. Lett. 24 (9), 631 (1999)
[6]U. Morgner et al., “Sub-two cycle pulses from a Kerr-lens mode-locked Ti:sapphire laser”, Opt. Lett. 24 (6), 411 (1999)
[7]C. Hönninger et al., “Ultrafast ytterbium-doped bulk lasers and laser amplifiers”, Appl. Phys. B 69, 3 (1999)
[8]E. Sorokin et al., “Diode-pumped ultrashort-pulse solid-state lasers”, Appl. Phys. B 72, 3 (2001)
[9]L. Krainer et al., “Compact Nd:YVO4 lasers with pulse repetition rates up to 160 GHz”, IEEE J. Quantum Electron. 38 (10), 1331 (2002)
[10]E. Innerhofer et al., “60 W average power in 810-fs pulses from a thin-disk Yb:YAG laser”, Opt. Lett. 28 (5), 367 (2003)
[11]U. Keller, “Recent developments in compact ultrafast lasers”, Nature 424, 831 (2003)
[12]F. Brunner et al., “Powerful RGB laser source pumped with a mode-locked thin-disk laser”, Opt. Lett. 29 (16), 1921 (2004)
[13]S. V. Marchese et al., “Pulse energy scaling to 5 μJ from a femtosecond thin-disk laser”, Opt. Lett. 31 (18), 2728 (2006)
[14]M. E. Fermann, “Ultrafast fiber oscillators”, in Ultrafast Lasers: Technology and Applications (eds. M. E. Fermann, A. Galvanauskas, G. Sucha), Marcel Dekker, New York (2003), Chapter 3, pp. 89–154
[15]R. Paschotta and U. Keller, “Passively mode-locked solid-state lasers”, in Solid-State Lasers and Applications (ed. A. Sennaroglu), CRC Press, Taylor and Francis Group, LLC (2007), Chapter 7, pp. 259–318
[16]For German readers: R. Paschotta, “Ultrakurzpuls-Festkörperlaser – eine vielfältige Familie”, Photonik 1 / 2006, p. 70
[17]R. Paschotta, “Laser sources for ultrashort pulses”, Laser Technik Journal 4 (1), p. 49 (2007)

(Suggest additional literature!)

See also: ultrafast laser physics, pulse generation, mode locking, passive mode locking, mode-locked lasers, Kerr lens mode locking, titanium–sapphire lasers, femtosecond lasers, picosecond lasers, ultrashort pulses, ultrafast amplifiers, optical sampling, laser applications, Spotlight article 2008-06-20
and other articles in the categories lasers, light pulses

Dr. R. Paschotta

This encyclopedia is authored by Dr. Rüdiger Paschotta, the founder and executive of RP Photonics Consulting GmbH. Contact this distinguished expert in laser technology, nonlinear optics and fiber optics, and find out how his technical consulting services (e.g. product designs, problem solving, independent evaluations, or staff training) and software could become very valuable for your business!

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