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Ultrafast Optics

Definition: the part of optics dealing with ultrafast phenomena

More general term: optics

Category: light pulses

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The term “ultrafast optics” occurs with two different meanings, which are treated in the following sections.

Ultrafast Optics as a Field of Physics

Ultrafast optics is the part of optics dealing with ultrafast phenomena, i.e. phenomena which occur on a time scale of picoseconds or less. Typically, ultrafast optics experiments involve ultrashort pulses as generated with mode-locked lasers (→ ultrafast laser physics).

As ultrafast phenomena are too fast to be directly monitored with electronics, optical techniques, such as pump–probe measurements, are required. With such techniques, phenomena occurring on time scales of picoseconds or femtoseconds can be monitored. Examples of such phenomena are femtosecond dynamics of electrons (particularly in solids, e.g. in semiconductor devices such as SESAMs), light-induced phase changes (e.g. melting or vaporization of metals), chemical reactions, and processes in plasmas.

Currently, ultrafast optics is being extended into the sub-femtosecond region, where attosecond pulses (or pulse trains) are obtained, e.g. via high harmonic generation with intense ultrashort pulses.

Optical Elements for Ultrafast Optics

Ultrafast optics can also denote optical elements which are specifically made or optimized for use in the field of ultrafast optics. Usually, optical elements are optimized such that one can send ultrashort pulses through them while avoiding excessive detrimental effects e.g. of chromatic dispersion and/or optical nonlinearities, or providing a suitable amount e.g. of chromatic dispersion for manipulation of the pulses.

Some examples for ultrafast optics are discussed in the following:


The RP Photonics Buyer's Guide contains 14 suppliers for ultrafast optics. Among them:

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See also: ultrashort pulses, ultrafast laser physics, ultrafast lasers, picosecond lasers, femtosecond lasers, pump–probe measurements
and other articles in the category light pulses


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