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A Sub-60 fs Titanium-Sapphire

Chirped Pulse Amplification Laser


System



Michael Brett Mason









Thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of
Philosophy of the University of London


April 2000



Laser Consortium
Blackett Laboratory
Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine
Prince Consort Road
London SW7 2BW
United Kingdom

m.mason@ic.ac.uk
www.lsr.ph.ic.ac.uk
(www.mikemason.co.uk)


2
Abstract
This thesis describes the construction of a sub-60 femtosecond (fs) titanium-sapphire
based Chirped Pulse Amplification (CPA) laser system. It outlines the procedure involved in
designing and building high intensity, ultra-short pulse systems in general, and presents a
specific solution to the problem. It then documents the construction of the laser and its
characterisation.
The thesis starts with an introduction to the field of chirped pulse amplification
including sources of femtosecond pulses, methods of measurement and methods of
amplification. In addition, the original Blackett Laboratory titanium-doped sapphire system is
described and the projected upgrade outlined. A summary of the laser-matter interaction
experiments that the author has been involved in is also included. The problem of stretching,
amplifying and recompressing ultrashort laser pulses is then discussed. A description of a
purpose-written, three-dimensional ray-tracing model for chirped pulse amplification is
presented; followed by results for specific systems from the literature and the authors own
solution. This code forms the basis of the theoretical part of the thesis. The implementation of
the system is split into four sections: the new short-pulse oscillator, the new pulse stretcher,
adapted and upgraded amplification stages and new compressor. The stretcher and compressor
construction is briefly described, followed by full characterisation showing how they compare
with modelling results. Each stage of amplification is described, but not in as much detail - the
main thrust of this thesis is to describe the details of ultra-short pulse stretching and
compression. Finally, the system characteristics at the time of writing are summarised and
directions for further improvements discussed.


3











DEFINITIONS
DEFIN. I. Ray
By the Rays of Light I understand its least Parts, and those as well Successive in the same Lines,
as Contemporary in several Lines. For it is manifest that Light consists of Parts, both
Successive and Contemporary; because in the same place you may stop that which comes one
moment, and let pass that which comes presently after; and in the same time you may stop it in
any one place, and let it pass in any other. For that part of Light which is stoppd cannot be the
same with that which is let pass. The least Light or part of Light, which may be stoppd alone
without the rest of the Light, or propagated alone, or do or suffer anything alone, which the rest
of the Light doth not or suffers not, I call a Ray of Light.
Sir Isaac Newton
The First Book of Opticks, Part I, 1730


4
Acknowledgements
My first acknowledgment must go to my parents. They have allowed me to travel through
twenty three years of education providing financial support and enthusiasm every step of the way.
Thankyou to Dad for instilling in me enthusiasm for finding out how things work, mainly by not being
too hard on me for taking everything I owned to bits. Thankyou to Mum for providing me with a career
thus far by always telling me I would be perfect in research. This thesis is for them.
Secondly, I would like to thank my two supervisors: Henry Hutchinson and Roland Smith.
Henry always managed to steer me onto the right track after wandering between our weekly meetings in
the first year and a half of my PhD. Roland took over as my acting supervisor when Henry left and has
always provided enthusiasm and even incentives. Thankyou also Roland for doing most of my proof
reading.
I would also like to thank all the people I have worked with in the lab over the last four and a
half years: Thanks Nick for answering my dumb computer questions, for sneaky beers down the pub and
shenanigans afterwards (nobody will see the photos!). Thanks Emma for correcting my spelling. Thanks
John for the windsurfing holiday in Italy and steering my writing style by rewriting my abstracts. Thanks
Jon for the in-pub entertainment and continuing Monday morning meetings in the beardy-one style.
Thanks Todd for banging your right fist into your left palm. Thanks Andy for singing Maiden. Thanks
Kirstie for helping me to talk tidy. Thanks Thomas for introductions to German culture. And thanks Dan
for my introduction to laser questing.
A mention must go to Peter Ruthven and Andy Gregory for excellent technical support
throughout my work in the lab. Peter never really got much from me in terms of technical drawings,
more like technical ramblings, but still managed to come up with something pretty special. I must also
apologise for when he proudly brought me nice shiny pieces if kit only to find that I needed more than
just the one sorry Peter. Thankyou also to Andy who produced the best damn grating and mirror
mounts a man designing a new stretcher and compressor could hope for. Thanks also to Shahid Hanif for
electronic support, Martin Horton for optical support and Archie Wallace for electrical support.
Many friends have supported me through my PhD, all of whom I cannot mention. I would
though like to mention two in particular: Alaric Marsden and Jan Troska. Thankyou both for relieving
the monotony that comes from working all day at home on my thesis by telephoning me and making me
laugh. Thanks to Koka Noodles too for sustaining me through my thesis writing. Thankyou especially to
Jan for being such a good friend since we first stepped through the Imperial College doors eight and a half
years ago. Particularly when the going got tough a year ago as many people must have thought I was the
offender. By the way, when do my snowboarding lessons in Geneva start?
If I can write acknowledgements, then I must be able to write unacknowledgements. I wouldnt
like to thank a certain producer of battered fishy products for my introduction to the English small claims
court system, especially when I was supposed to be writing my thesis.
Finally and definitely not lastly, I would like to say thankyou to the forbidden daffodil in my life.
She has done her best to relieve my fedupedness over the last year and has always helped and encouraged
me to get the book out the door.


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Contents
Title Page.....................................................................................................1
Abstract .......................................................................................................2
Quote ...........................................................................................................3
Acknowledgements ....................................................................................4
Contents ......................................................................................................5
List of figures..............................................................................................9
List of tables..............................................................................................19
1. Introduction...............................................................................................21
1.1. Thesis introduction.....................................................................................21
1.2. Ultra-short pulses........................................................................................23
1.2.1. Ultrashort pulse sources.......................................................................24
1.2.1.1. Introduction ................................................................................. 24
1.2.1.2. Kerr-lens modelocking................................................................. 25
1.2.1.3. Cavity dispersion compensation.................................................. 28
1.2.2. Ultrashort pulse measurement..............................................................29
1.2.2.1. Far-field monitor .......................................................................... 29
1.2.2.2. Single-shot autocorrelator ........................................................... 30
1.2.2.3. FROG ......................................................................................... 33
1.2.2.4. SPIDER....................................................................................... 34
1.3. Chirped pulse amplification........................................................................36
1.4. Short pulse amplifiers.................................................................................40
1.4.1. Multi-pass configuration........................................................................42
1.4.2. Regenerative amplification ...................................................................43
1.5. Blackett Laboratory Laser Consortium titanium-doped sapphire chirped
pulse amplification laser system................................................................44


6
1.6. PhD chronology...........................................................................................46
1.7. Laser-matter interaction experiments........................................................48
1.7.1. Experimental summary.........................................................................48
1.7.2. Measurement of the spatiotemporal evolution of high-order harmonic
radiation using chirped laser pulse spectroscopy .................................50
1.7.3. Explosion of C
60
irradiated with a high-intensity femtosecond laser pulse
.............................................................................................................54
2. Design considerations for high power, short pulse laser systems......59
2.1. Considerations for high intensity laser-matter interaction experiments.59
2.1.1. Pulse contrast ......................................................................................59
2.1.2. Pedestal ...............................................................................................60
2.1.3. Pulse energy fluctuations .....................................................................61
2.1.4. Beam focusability .................................................................................62
2.1.5. Beam pointing stability .........................................................................63
2.1.6. Pulse duration fluctuations ...................................................................64
2.2. Optical component considerations............................................................65
2.2.1. Optical bandwidth.................................................................................65
2.2.1.1. Thin film coatings ........................................................................ 65
2.2.1.2. Polarisers and waveplates........................................................... 66
2.2.1.3. Bandwidth clipping ...................................................................... 67
2.2.1.4. Gain narrowing and gain shifting................................................. 69
2.2.2. Dispersion............................................................................................70
2.2.2.1. Group-velocity dispersion............................................................ 70
2.2.2.2. High order dispersion .................................................................. 71
2.2.3. Nonlinearities .......................................................................................73
2.2.3.1. Self-focusing ............................................................................... 73
2.2.3.2. Self-phase modulation................................................................. 74
2.2.3.3. B-integral..................................................................................... 75
2.3. The need for modelling...............................................................................76
3. The Chirped Pulse Amplification model .................................................77
3.1. Model suite ..................................................................................................78
3.1.1. CPQuick...............................................................................................78
3.1.2. CPTrace...............................................................................................82


7
3.1.3. CPTrace3D..........................................................................................83
3.2. Detailed model description.........................................................................84
3.2.1. Pulse definition.....................................................................................84
3.2.2. Fourier transforms................................................................................86
3.2.3. Three-dimensional ray-tracing..............................................................90
3.2.3.1. Ray transfer equations ................................................................ 90
3.2.3.2. Snells law................................................................................... 93
3.2.3.3. Diffractive optics and the grating equation................................... 94
3.2.4. Surface imperfections...........................................................................96
3.2.5. Pulse combination and output methodology .........................................97
3.2.6. Code limitations....................................................................................98
4. Modelling results ....................................................................................100
4.1. Code verification results...........................................................................100
4.1.1. Dispersionless runs............................................................................100
4.1.2. Dispersion only calculations ...............................................................102
4.1.3. Ray transfer tests ...............................................................................103
4.1.4. Surface imperfections.........................................................................105
4.2. Systems modelled in detail.......................................................................106
4.2.1. Livermore system...............................................................................107
4.2.1.1. Livermore system specification ................................................. 107
4.2.1.2. Livermore system performance................................................. 109
4.2.2. ffner triplet system...........................................................................110
4.2.2.1. ffner triplet system specification.............................................. 110
4.2.2.2. ffner triplet system performance ............................................. 111
4.3. Reflective doublet system........................................................................113
4.3.1. Reflective doublet specification ..........................................................115
4.3.2. Reflective doublet performance..........................................................116
4.4. Additional modelling.................................................................................118
4.4.1. Introduction ........................................................................................118
4.4.2. Extra modelling results .......................................................................119
4.4.2.1. Adapted reflective doublet design.............................................. 120
4.4.2.2. Adapted Livermore design......................................................... 121
4.4.2.3. Adapted Ross design ................................................................ 122
4.4.3. Extra modelling conclusions ...............................................................124


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4.5. Summary....................................................................................................125
5. System implementation and characterisation......................................126
5.1. Short pulse oscillator upgrade.................................................................126
5.2. Stretcher implementation .........................................................................129
5.3. Amplification upgrade...............................................................................132
5.3.1. Regenerative amplifier .......................................................................132
5.3.1.1. Cavity design............................................................................. 133
5.3.1.2. Pumping.................................................................................... 134
5.3.1.3. Pulse switching ......................................................................... 135
5.3.1.4. Unwanted pulse suppression .................................................... 137
5.3.1.5. Spectral characteristics ............................................................. 139
5.3.1.6. B-integral................................................................................... 140
5.3.2. Pre-amplifier.......................................................................................141
5.3.3. Power amplifier ..................................................................................141
5.4. Compressor implementation....................................................................143
5.5. Laser characteristics.................................................................................147
5.5.1. Temporal ............................................................................................147
5.5.2. Spatial ................................................................................................149
5.5.3. Energy................................................................................................150
5.6. Full system................................................................................................152
6. Summary, conclusions and further work .............................................156
6.1. Summary....................................................................................................156
6.2. Conclusions...............................................................................................157
6.3. Further work ..............................................................................................159
References ..............................................................................................161









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List of figures
Figure 1.1 Ponderomotive energy as a function of laser intensity for a laser of centre
wavelength 800 nm. Boxes show examples of accessible phenomena at the
given intensity (QED = quantum electrodynamics, e
+
e
-
= electron positron
pair). Adapted from figure 4 of [Perry 94].......................................................... 22
Figure 1.2 Logarithmic time line showing time scales of some common events.
Geometric mean between a 100 attosecond light pulse [Papadogiannis 99]
and estimated age of the Universe (~10 billion years) is about one second.
Adapted from figure 1 [Kapteyn 99].................................................................... 23
Figure 1.3 Schematic showing the configuration of mirrors around the gain medium in
a Kerr-lens modelocked cavity. Mirrors arranged such that, with the help
of the Kerr effect, a high intensity beam is collimated either side of mirrors
M1 and M2, whereas a low intensity beam diverges and suffers higher loss. ..... 27
Figure 1.4 Schematic of a sequence of prisms that give adjustable group velocity
dispersion without net angular dispersion. ........................................................... 28
Figure 1.5 Schematic of a far field monitor. CCD = charge-couple device. Image
viewed on a video monitor connected to the camera. .......................................... 30
Figure 1.6 Schematic of a single-shot autocorrelator. BS = beamsplitter and CCD =
charge-couple device. Image viewed on a video monitor connected to the
camera. ................................................................................................................. 31
Figure 1.7 Schematic of a second harmonic frequency resolved optical gate device for
retrieving the full complex field of the signal pulse. Prism acts as a
rudimentary spectrometer to illustrate how the FROG trace is produced.
Adapted from figure 5 of [Kapteyn 99]. BS = beamsplitter................................ 34
Figure 1.8 Schematic of a typical spectral phase interferometer for direct electric-field
reconstruction set up. Dispersive delay often comprised of a grating pair.
BS = beamsplitter................................................................................................. 35
Figure 1.9 Schematic of a parallel diffraction grating pair compressor. Green arrow
labelled shows manner in which rays of increasing wavelength are
diffracted On exit from grating pair, beam is spatially dispersed. Figure
adapted from [Treacy 69], figure 1. ..................................................................... 37
Figure 1.10 Antiparallel diffraction grating pair forming a Martinez [Martinez 87] style
stretcher that adds opposite chirp to the parallel grating pair of Figure 1,9.


10
f is the focal length of les L1 and f is the focal length of lens L2. G1 is
the image of grating G1........................................................................................ 38
Figure 1.11 Schematic of the technique of chirped pulse amplification. ................................ 39
Figure 1.12 Schematic showing the principle of regenerative amplification. M#
represents cavity mirrors, P# represents polarisers and PC# represents
Pockels cells. ........................................................................................................ 43
Figure 1.13 Schematic of the Blackett Laboratory Laser Consortium titanium-doped
sapphire chirped pulse amplification laser system before being upgraded.
Proposed upgrades shown by dotted lines and half-tone colours......................... 45
Figure 1.14 Approximate chronology of work conducted during PhD.
S-T E of HHG = Spatio-Temporal Evolution of High Harmonic
Generation. ........................................................................................................... 46
Figure 1.15 The 13
th
harmonic studied was dispersed in a high-resolution imaging
vacuum-ultraviolet spectrometer and recorded with a microchannel plate
detector (MCP)..................................................................................................... 51
Figure 1.16 The space and time resolved images show that the harmonic beam becomes
annular on a sub-picosecond time-scale. The peak intensity in the Xe jet
was 1.310
14
Wcm
-2
. ............................................................................................. 52
Figure 1.17 Comparison of microchannel plate images at different peak laser intensities
with numerical simulations showing that ionisation depletion is the cause
of the annular harmonic beam. ............................................................................. 53
Figure 1.18 Schematic of the time-of-flight spectrometer showing the C
60
source, laser
focus, extraction and drift regions and microchannel plate (MCP) detector.
The laser propagates out of the page and is focused into the C
60
beam in the
centre of the extraction region.............................................................................. 55
Figure 1.19 Spectra recorded at three intensities from 510
14
Wcm
-2
to 510
15
Wcm
-2

with horizontal polarisation (polarisation vector parallel to detection axis). ....... 56
Figure 1.20 The difference between horizontal polarisation and vertical polarisation
(polarisation vector perpendicular to detection axis) showing the
anisotropic distribution of the C
2+
, C
3+
and C
4+
ions. ........................................... 57
Figure 1.21 Comparison of experimental and simulated time of flight spectra using 150
fs, 780 nm, vertically polarised pulses. ................................................................ 58

Figure 2.1 Pulse profiles. (a) Short timescale profile showing pulse shoulder and pre-
/post-pulses due to incomplete recompression. (b) Longer timescale profile
showing pulse pedestal and pre-/post-pulses from sources within the
amplifier chain ..................................................................................................... 60


11
Figure 2.2 Distribution of beams of different wavelength in the compressor, (a) for
small diameter input beams and (b) for large diameter input beams ................... 67
Figure 2.3 Soft and hard spectral clipping for the case of large and small beam
diameters, respectively. Spectral bandpass profiles represent wavelengths
transmittable by the stretcher and compressor. FT represents Fourier
transform and represents mathematical convolution........................................ 68
Figure 2.4 Sech
2
pulse bandwidth (blue curve) and temporal broadening (red curve)
due to 1 centimetre of BK7 glass, as a function of input pulse duration.
Calculated using chirped pulse amplification model described in chapter 3 ....... 71
Figure 2.5 Comparison between the variation of refractive index with wavelength for
BK7 and TGG...................................................................................................... 72
Figure 2.6 Calculation of self-phase modulation of a Gaussian pulse (red) in the
absence of group-velocity dispersion. Blue line shows the instantaneous
frequency shift of a 30 fs Gaussian pulse after propagation through 1 cm of
fused silica............................................................................................................ 75

Figure 3.1 Calculated contributions of third and fourth order phase as a function of
input pulse duration for a reflective stretcher. High order phase
contributions become increasingly important as the pulse duration is
reduced. Third order phase is shown in red and fourth order phase is
shown in blue. ...................................................................................................... 77
Figure 3.2 Configuration of the pulse compressor showing the definition of grating
separation (b, metres), grating angle (
0
), diffracted angular spread ()
and input angle ()................................................................................................ 79
Figure 3.3 Compressor configurations. (a) Configuration with smallest second
diffraction grating size. (b) Littrow configuration giving largest diffraction
efficiency. (c) Compromise configuration that allows input and output of
finite sized beams. ................................................................................................ 79
Figure 3.4 Flow diagram for the CPTrace model. Blue lines represent
spectra/temporal phase and red lines represent spectral/temporal amplitude.
FT represents the Fourier transform and FT
-1
represents the inverse Fourier
transform. ............................................................................................................. 82
Figure 3.5 Pulse definition. I represents intensity, x and y are the beam coordinates
and t is the time parameter. The time window is split into
NumTimeSteps time steps with the full-width-half-maximum pulse
duration described by FWHMTimeSteps steps. The spatial array is


12
defined by a grid of NumBeams NumBeams, with the full-width-half-
maximum beam diameter described by FWHMSpaceBeams beams. ............... 84
Figure 3.6 Profiles of 30 femtosecond Gaussian (red) and sech
2
(black) pulses. Inset
graph shows the same profiles on a log intensity scale. ....................................... 85
Figure 3.7 The discrete Fourier transform sample points, represented by blue dots,
are illustrative only. (a) Shows the sampled input pulse. (b) Shows how
this is transformed into frequency space. (c) Shows the non-aliased result
where values of A(
n
) are zero at the extremes of the sample set (where
|
n
| = /). (d) Shows the aliased result where values of A(
n
) outside the
sample range (red) are flipped back into range creating a spectrum that is
elevated near the edges (blue). ............................................................................. 87
Figure 3.8 Rearrangement of the pulse in time and frequency in order that phase is
zero across the centre of the pulse. This reformatting also places zero time
and wavelength in the correct positions. .............................................................. 88
Figure 3.9 Definition of transformed pulse. Each beam now contains NumRays
frequency components. The amplitude of each spectrum is modified by the
amplitude of the beam at each position in the beam profile array. ...................... 89
Figure 3.10 Ray and surface parameter conventions used by the ray transfer equations.
The ray and surface are only shown in the z-y plane. The origin of this
plane represents the centre of the surface the ray is emerging from. Inset
shows axis convention and plane of dispersion.................................................... 91
Figure 3.11 Phase addition due to grating surface structure. Left hand diagram
represents grating surface, right hand diagram is a graph of phase addition.
Ray (a) starts with phase . Ray (b) is one groove away and so the phase at
this point is the original phase plus 2. Ray (c) is 5 grooves away and so
the phase addition at this point is 5 times 2. ...................................................... 95
Figure 3.12 Calculation of ray phase upon diffraction through an ideal grating pair
compressor. AA and CC are both wavefronts, but path ABC is longer
than ABC. Adapted from figure 3 of [Treacy 69]. Phase correction of
equation 3.28 must be added to compensate for this............................................ 95
Figure 3.13 Slow (left diagram) and fast (right diagram) variations added to surfaces to
simulate surface imperfections. Slow and fast variations added in
amplitude ratio ~6:1. ............................................................................................ 96
Figure 3.14 Surface pistoning. Left hand diagram represents ideal spherical concave
surface (black) with high spatial frequency irregularities (red). Right hand
diagram shows how these irregularities are simulated by pistoning. ................... 97


13
Figure 3.15 Each beam traced through the stretcher and compressor is brought to the
focus of a numerical achromatic, aspheric lens. This has the effect of
bringing each beam to the same point in space and time to produce a single
output pulse temporal profile. .............................................................................. 98

Figure 4.1 Spectral and temporal outputs of the code in the absence of material
dispersion on a logarithmic scale. The input pulse in this case was a 30 fs
Gaussian pulse. The red curve shows the pulse spectrum, the blue curve
shows the input temporal profile and the green curve shows the, laterally
displaced, output temporal profile. Dotted line represents the detection
limit of laboratory pulse profile and spectrum measurement devices................ 101
Figure 4.2 Comparison of calculations using the code (solid lines) and performed
manually (black circles) testing material (red) and diffractive (blue)
dispersion. .......................................................................................................... 102
Figure 4.3 Schematic showing layout in the z-x plane for the ray transfer test.
M = 1 m radius of curvature mirror, G = diffraction grating and S = screen.
Grey lines represent input rays........................................................................... 104
Figure 4.4 Image of a nine-by-nine grid of beams diffracted from a diffraction grating
via a 1 m radius of curvature concave mirror placed 1 m away from the
grating onto a screen placed at the centre of the grating. ................................... 104
Figure 4.5 Comparison of calculated recompressed pulse profiles of a 30 fs pulse
stretcher and those measured by Cheriaux et al [Cheriaux 96]. The left
hand graph shows the results presented in the paper by Antonetti et al and
the right hand graph shows the results of the chirped pulse amplification
model for three different surface figures of the large stretcher optic. ................ 106
Figure 4.6 Stretcher schematics designed by: (a) Lemoff et al; (b) Zhou et al and (c)
Itatani et al. Orange lines represent diffraction gratings, cyan lines
represent mirrors and grey lines represent input/output paths. .......................... 107
Figure 4.7 Schematics of the Livermore stretcher as it is folded abcd from the
standard Martinez configuration (a). Orange lines represent diffraction
gratings, cyan lines represent mirrors and grey lines represent input/output
paths. .................................................................................................................. 108
Figure 4.8 Calculated profile of a pulse stretched using a Livermore-style stretcher.
Blue curve shows 30 fs input pulse and red curve shows stretched and
recompressed pulse profile. Calculated using the code..................................... 109
Figure 4.9 Schematic of the ffner triplet based stretcher design of Antonetti et al
[Cheriaux 96]. Input/output through System double pass mirror...................... 111


14
Figure 4.10 Comparison of 30 fs input pulse profile (black curve), output pulse profile
from an ffner triplet based stretcher with perfectly flat optics (blue curve)
and the output pulse profile from an ffner triplet based stretcher with
realistic surface figures (red curve). Calculated using the code. Inset
shows figure 2 from [Antonetti 95] showing independent calculations for
blue curve. .......................................................................................................... 112
Figure 4.11 Calculated residual phase of a 30 fs pulse after passing through an ffner
triplet based stretcher and corresponding compressor, with perfect optics
(blue curve) and with optics having non-zero surface figure (red curve).
Calculated using the code................................................................................... 113
Figure 4.12 Schematics of two stretchers: (a) the ffner triplet based and (b) doublet
based. Definitions: M = Mirror, G = Grating, GI = Grating Image,
C = Centre of curvature and N = the null stretch position. Grey lines
represent input/output paths. .............................................................................. 114
Figure 4.13 Three-dimensional schematic of the reflective doublet based stretcher
design. Input and output is via the single ray at the top of the diffraction
grating. ............................................................................................................... 115
Figure 4.14 Detailed schematic of final doublet stretcher specifications. roc = radius of
curvature, egs = effective grating separation, d = grating constant,
w = width of optic and = diameter of optic. .................................................... 116
Figure 4.15 Comparison of 30 fs input pulse profile (black curve), output pulse profile
from a reflective doublet based stretcher with perfectly flat optics (blue
curve) and the output pulse profile from a reflective doublet based stretcher
with realistic surface figures (red curve). Calculated using the code................ 117
Figure 4.16 Calculated residual phase of a 30 fs pulse after passing through a reflective
doublet based stretcher and corresponding compressor, with perfect optics
(blue curve) and with optics having non-zero surface figure (red curve).
Calculated using the code................................................................................... 118
Figure 4.17 1 Input 30 fs pulse profile (black curve) and recompressed pulse profile
(red curve) for the doublet stretcher. The input pulse was stretched to
600 ps and the recompressed full width half maximum pulse duration of
55.7 fs................................................................................................................. 121
Figure 4.18 Input 30 fs pulse profile (black curve) and recompressed pulse profiles
(green, red and blue curves) for the Livermore stretcher. The input pulse
was stretched to 600 ps. The recompressed pulse duration and wing level
changes as the focal length of the curved mirror is changed.............................. 122


15
Figure 4.19 Schematic of the Ross stretcher design. Orange lines represent the two
diffraction gratings and the grey line represents the input beam path. The
first grating need not be as large as shown it needs only to be large
enough to accommodate the input beam. ........................................................... 123
Figure 4.20 2 Input 30 fs pulse profiles (black curves) and output profiles (red, green
and blue) for (a) double-double pass and (b) double-size Ross stretcher
designs. Different coloured curves show how the output pulse profile
changes as a function of optic surface flatness................................................... 123
Figure 4.21 Input 30 fs pulse profiles (black curves) and output profiles (red, green,
blue and magenta) for (a) double-double pass and (b) double-size Ross
stretcher designs. Different coloured curves show how the output pulse
profile changes as a function of input beam full width half maximum
diameter.............................................................................................................. 124

Figure 5.1 Schematic of the Murnane and Kapteyn short pulse oscillator. RM
represents the rear cavity mirror; B represents a beam block; M represents
concave mirrors with a radius of curvature of 10 cm; and L is a lens of
focal length 10.5 cm. .......................................................................................... 127
Figure 5.2 Single-shot autocorrelation of pulses from the oscillator showing a duration
of 37.3 fs. Inset shows the same profile on a logarithmic scale. Dynamic
range limited by the CCD camera used in the autocorrelation measurement .... 128
Figure 5.3 Spectrum of pulses from the oscillator showing a bandwidth of 31.1 nm
(red curve). Blue curve shows the spectrum of lines from an argon
discharge lamp. The pulse spectrum is centred and the spectrometer is
calibrated using a strong argon line at 801.5 nm................................................ 129
Figure 5.4 Picture of the completed stretcher with the oscillator in the foreground.
M1 = concave mirror; M2 = small flat mirror; M3 = convex mirror;
M4 = double pass mirror; G = diffraction grating; I = alignment irises;
C = oscillator crystal; and P = oscillator prism. ................................................. 130
Figure 5.5 Measurement of the spectrum across the beam (in the plane of dispersion)
for a misaligned stretcher (top image) and a corrected stretcher (bottom
image). Red represents no light and increasing light levels are represented
by orange-yellow-green-blue. ............................................................................ 131
Figure 5.6 An image taken from the oscilloscope showing the profile of the stretched
pulse. Measured using a fast diode [New focus] and sampling scope
[Tektronix]. The diode has a rise-time of approximately 50 ps that has the
effect of stretching the measurement. ................................................................ 132


16
Figure 5.7 Schematic of the regenerative amplifier. TFP1, TFP2 = thin film polariser;
M1, M2 = cavity mirrors. Titanium-doped sapphire crystal has length
20 mm and a doping level of 0.10%................................................................... 133
Figure 5.8 Traces from a digital oscilloscope showing the pump pulse (A, at 0 ns) and
the seeded build-up (around 200 ns) of the regenerative amplifier. Switch-
out is just after 200 ns. Inset shows the position of the seed (red trace)
compared to the pump pulse (green trace). The ringing after each short
pulse is the response of the photodiode to a 300 ps pulse. ................................. 136
Figure 5.9 Schematics of the input (a) and output (b) regenerative amplifier slicers.
The removable /2 waveplate of the input slicer allows an alignment beam
to pass through the second polariser. The output energy of the output slicer
is controlled by allowing energy to be rejected (via route G) by rotating the
first /2 waveplate. Rays travel from left to right. ............................................ 137
Figure 5.10 Comparison of pulse spectra before (red curve) and after (blue curve) the
regenerative amplifier and its free-run spectrum (blue curve). Curves show
the effect of gain shifting. .................................................................................. 139
Figure 5.11 Schematic of the pre-amplifier. B = beam block blocks excess pump
energy that passes through the Brewster-cut titanium-doped sapphire
crystal. ................................................................................................................ 141
Figure 5.12 Schematic of the bow-tie power amplifier...................................................... 142
Figure 5.13 Detailed schematic of the final compressor design. RR = gold plated
retroreflector. Grating constant is 1200 lines/mm............................................. 144
Figure 5.14 Duration addition to a 35 fs pulse as the separation between the gratings in
the compressor is changed. Black curve shows duration change due to
second order phase, red curve from third order phase and green from fourth
order phase. Maximum stretch due to third and fourth order phase is 20 fs
and 4 fs respectively across the 1 cm grating separation displacement.
Calculated using the code described in chapter 3............................................... 144
Figure 5.15 Duration addition to a 35 fs pulse as the two diffraction gratings in the
compressor are rotated. Positive displacement angle corresponds to
rotating the grating anti-clockwise in Figure 5.13. Red curve shows
contribution from third order phase and green curve shows contribution
from fourth order phase. Blue curve shows how much the compressor
grating separation was changed in order to keep the contribution from
second order phase zero as the gratings are rotated. Calculated using the
code described in chapter 3. ............................................................................... 145


17
Figure 5.16 Change in contrast of a 35 fs pulse as the two diffraction gratings in the
compressor are rotated. Positive displacement angle corresponds to
rotating the grating anti-clockwise in Figure 5.13. Red curve shows
contribution from third order phase and green curve shows contribution
from fourth order phase. Contrast level assumes a pulse with originally
zero third and fourth order residual phase. Calculated using the code
described in chapter 3......................................................................................... 146
Figure 5.17 Temporal profile of the output pulse of the laser. Full-width-half-
maximum duration is 59 fs. Inset shows the profile of the pulse on a
logarithmic intensity scale.................................................................................. 148
Figure 5.18 Spectral profile of the output pulse of the laser (red curve). Full-width-
half-maximum bandwidth of the pulse is 20 nm. Spectrum centred at
797 nm The green curve shows the emission lines of rubidium used to
calibrate the spectrum. ....................................................................................... 149
Figure 5.19 Beam shape at the focus of a 50 cm focal length lens. Arrow has length
50 m. Right image is the same as the left grey-scale image but shows full
dynamic range (two orders of magnitude) of measurement on a linear
colour scale (ROYGBIV). 1/e
2
radius is 23 m which is 1.9 times
diffraction limited............................................................................................... 150
Figure 5.20 Accumulation of 4199 laser shots showing the variation of energy on a
shot-to-shot basis for the laser before it was upgraded. Average energy
11.4 mJ with a standard deviation of 1.5 mJ. ..................................................... 151
Figure 5.21 Picture of the completed laser system. A = oscillator, B = stretcher,
C = oscilloscope traces showing spectrum (top) and pulse train (bottom)
from the oscillator, D = Millennia, E = Surelite, F = regenerative amplifier,
G = input and output slicers, H = pre-amplifier, I = BMI, J = power
amplifier (bow-tie) and K = Quanta ray. Photograph courtesy of Nick
Jackson - Physics department photographer at Imperial College....................... 152
Figure 5.22 Schematic of the laser system. A represents autocorrelators, S is a
spectrometer, T is a Newtonian telescope and FFM is a far-field monitor.
The grey outlines represent the three optical tables that accommodate the
laser system. ....................................................................................................... 153
Figure 5.23 Laser timing diagram. Time scales are nonlinear but pulse order is
accurate. OSC represents 89.4 MHz pulse train from oscillator; 10 Hz is
the oscillator pulse train divided by factor of ~89.410
5
; InS = input slicer;
SFL = Surelite flashlamp trigger; SQS = Surelite Q-switch; Rin =
regenerative amplifier switch in; Rout = regenerative amplifier switch out;


18
OutS = output slicer; QRFL = Quanta Ray flashlamps; QRQS = Quanta
Ray Q-switch; BMIFL = BMI flashlamps; BMIQS = BMI Q-switch. .............. 154


19
List of tables
Table 1.1 Summary of characteristics for a range of common, short pulse
amplification media ([Diels 96], [Nees 98] and [Nikogosyan 97]).

0
= gain centre wavelength, = gain bandwidth, = emission cross-
section, = upper-state lifetime, U
sat
= saturation fluence and = thermal
conductivity. the thermal conductivity of organic dyes depends on the
solvent used; it is also of less importance as the dye is circulated through a
jet, therefore the thermal restrictions on repetition rate are relaxed..................... 41

Table 3.1 Surface definition parameters for the three different types of surface:
Spherical, Plane and Reflecting diffraction Grating. P8 represents the
value of parameter number 8................................................................................ 90

Table 4.1 Differences between second, third, fourth and fifth order phase
contributions of the Livermore stretcher and corresponding compressor.
Calculated using the code................................................................................... 110
Table 4.2 Summary of surface specifications of ffner triplet based stretcher optics.
(* = flatness estimated due to lack of information in [Antonetti 97]). ............... 112

Table 5.1 Summary of optical components in the regenerative amplifier, their lengths
and n
2
values [Nikogosyan 97]........................................................................... 140
Table 5.2 Summary of optical components in the output slicer, their lengths and n
2

values [Nikogosyan 97]..................................................................................... 141
Table 5.3 Summary of allowable beam diameters as a function of mirror diameter.
D = mirror diameter, D
U
= usable mirror diameter, 1/e
2
= 1/e
2
beam
diameter, FWHM = full-width-half-maximum beam diameter, F
G
= peak
fluence at the grating surface assuming 200 mJ pulse energy, P
B
= peak
beam power after compression assuming a 50% efficient compressor and
D
B
= propagation distance required to accumulate a B-integral of one
radian.................................................................................................................. 147
Table 5.4 Summary of B-integral contributions from each laser stage, the total
accumulated B-integral and output energy from each stage. ............................. 153
Table 6.1 Summary of focused intensities mentioned at various points through this
thesis. E = pulse energy; t = full width half maximum pulse duration;


20
= laser wavelength; = input beam 1/e
2
radius;
0
= focal spot 1/e
2

radius; f = focal length of focusing optic; N = number of times diffraction
limited focal spot; and I
0
= peak focused intensity. ........................................... 159
1. Introduction
1.1. Thesis introduction
The last fifteen years has seen a revolution in the shortest duration pulses and highest
intensities available from laboratory scale lasers. Three main technological developments are
responsible for this: the technique of passive mode-locking a laser to produce pulses on the sub-
picosecond timescale; the development of titanium-doped sapphire as a gain medium for
femtosecond duration pulses; and the technique of chirped pulse amplification.
High intensity laser radiation may be produced in two ways: by having a large amount
of energy (many Joules) in a reasonably short pulse (nanoseconds); or by having a modest
amount of energy (millijoules) in an ultrashort pulse (pico - femtoseconds). The first method
requires large aperture beams in order to avoid damage to optical components through the
nonlinear response of optical materials. This method is therefore reserved for national facility
scale lasers such as those at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in the United Kingdom and at
the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the United States. The latter method of
producing high intensity laser radiation uses the technique of chirped pulse amplification to
temporally stretch an ultrashort pulse thereby reducing the peak intensity for safe, damage-free
amplification to modest energies in the millijoule to few Joule range. Laser powers in the
terawatt regime have been produced by lasers of this type and a combination of chirped pulse
amplification and large aperture optics has given rise to lasers with petawatt powers [Perry 94].
The development of laboratory-scale high intensity, ultrashort lasers has opened up
many opportunities in the field of high intensity laser-matter interactions. Above intensities of
about 10
12
Wcm
-2
, electric field of the laser is no longer a perturbation to the electric field inside
an atom, and so the perturbation theory of light-matter interactions breaks down. Figure 1.1
shows the increasingly rich range of physical phenomena available as the focused intensity of a
laser increases. The ponderomotive potential is the energy given to an electron in an atom by
the oscillating electric field of the laser and is given by:

2
0
2
0
2
4
e
P
m
E e
U = (1.1)
where e is the electron charge (C), E
0
is the maximum laser electric field (Vm
-1
), m
e
is the
electron mass (kg) and
0
is the laser centre angular frequency (radians s
-1
). The energy of the
electron, in the presence of the electric field of the laser, increases and then decreases as the

Introduction

22
laser pulse passes. Energy is transferred to the electron only if it interacts with a third body, for
example by colliding with an ion.
The fact that this high intensity laser radiation is in the form of an ultrashort pulse is
also important experimentally. In many experiments, we need to interact with the most intense
part of the pulse; if the laser pulse is temporally long, the target can fragment, or a pre-plasma
can be formed, changing the intended target before the main peak of the pulse arrives. Very
short probe pulses are also required to freeze extremely rapid processes such as energy
transport by keV electrons in a cluster plasma in pump/probe experiments. In addition, high-
order harmonic generation has been shown to be more efficient for femtosecond duration pulses
[Zhou 96] as the level of ionisation (which reduces harmonic efficiency) is reduced for shorter
pulses.






10
13
10
15
10
17
10
19
10
21
10
0
10
2
10
4
10
6
10
8
QED,
nuclear reactions,
pion production
Fusion ignition,
e
+
e
-
production
Relativistic plasmas,
hard x-rays
High-brightness
x-ray sources,
x-ray lasers
Molecular and
cluster coulomb/
hydrodynamic explosion
Perturbative
atomic physics and
nonlinear optics
P
o
n
d
e
r
o
m
o
t
i
v
e

p
o
t
e
n
t
i
a
l

(
e
V
)
Laser intensity (Wcm
-2
)

Figure 1.1 Ponderomotive potential as a function of laser intensity for a laser of centre
wavelength 800 nm. Boxes show examples of accessible phenomena at the given intensity (QED
= quantum electrodynamics, e
+
e
-
= electron positron pair). Adapted from figure 4 of
[Perry 94].
In order to remain competitive in the field and to investigate the physics of ultrashort,
high intensity laser-matter interactions, the Blackett Laboratory Laser Consortium, titanium-
doped sapphire, chirped pulse amplification laser system was to be upgraded in terms of both
pulse duration and pulse energy. The subject of this thesis is to describe the process of this
upgrade. This includes: a discussion of the key issues involved when designing an ultrashort,
high power laser system; a description of a detailed three-dimensional ray-tracing model written

Introduction

23
to aid the design of an ultrashort pulse stretcher; the design and specification of a reflective
doublet based stretcher; and the implementation of this design into the laser system.
Primarily this thesis is concerned with the design and implementation of a high power,
chirped pulse amplification laser system. There is however, a section in this chapter that
outlines the authors involvement in experimental work using the original form of the laser
before it was upgraded.
1.2. Ultra-short pulses
It is difficult to imagine the scale of a femtosecond light pulse. A 10 fs pulse travelling
through air or vacuum has a width in the direction of propagation of three microns. These
pulses are difficult to characterise as the fastest photodiodes available can only measure
durations of the order of fifty picoseconds (see section 5.2). Figure 1.2 gives an idea of the
scale of such short pulses by comparing common events on a logarithmic time scale. One
femtosecond is as small compared to one minute as the age of the Universe is large.
10
0
10
3
10
6
10
9
10
12
10
15
10
18
10
-3
10
-6
10
-9
10
-12
10
-15
10
-18
100 as High Harmonic Generated Pulse
100 fs Oscillator Pulse
5 ns Doubled Nd:YAG pulse
Camera flash
Time (seconds)
One Minute
One Month
Age of Universe
One Millennium

Figure 1.2 Logarithmic time line showing time scales of some common events. Geometric mean
between a 100 attosecond light pulse [Papadogiannis 99] and estimated age of the Universe
(~10 billion years) is about one second. Adapted from figure 1 of [Kapteyn 99].
In this section, sources of femtosecond light pulses and different ways of measuring
them are discussed. The method used to produce ultrashort pulses for the laser system
described in this thesis - Kerr-lens modelocking - is covered in detail. Pulse measurement
devices including autocorrelation, FROG and SPIDER are discussed as well as a simple device
for detecting beam aberrations.

Introduction

24
1.2.1. Ultrashort pulse sources
1.2.1.1. Introduction
In recent years, the duration of available femtosecond pulses has dropped dramatically
[Steinmeyer 00]. The first laser to be modelocked was a helium-neon laser in 1964 by Hargrove
et al [Hargrove 64], which produced nanosecond duration pulses. In 1974, Shank and Ippen
produced the first modelocked pulses with a duration of <500fs in a free-flowing dye jet [Shank
74]. It is now possible to produce pulses with a duration of only 5 fs at the nanojoule level from
a modelocked titanium-doped sapphire oscillator [Baltuska 97]. Higher power pulses
(microjoules per pulse) are available from other techniques such as hollow fibre compression
[Nisoli 96] and optical parametric amplification [Ross 97]. These techniques rely on longer
pulses (tens of femtoseconds) from chirped pulse amplification lasers to seed and/or pump a
process that generates shorter pulses. Sources for chirped pulse amplification systems need
only be at the nanojoule per pulse level due to the large factors of gain available in a well
designed laser.
There are many different types of oscillator, based on different gain media, which
produce pulses at the nanojoule level. A review paper by [French 95] discusses many
modelocking techniques that produce pulses in the picosecond to femtosecond regime. These
include active modelocking (for example [Spence 91b]), passive modelocking with a saturable
absorber (for example [Mellish 93]) and passive modelocking with the Kerr effect including
additive pulse modelocking (for example [Mark 89]) and Kerr-lens modelocking (for example
[Proctor 92], [Lemoff 92], [Curley 93] and [Asaki 93]).
The bandwidth of the gain medium dictates the minimum pulse duration that an
oscillator can produce. Dye and rare-gas excimer systems typically have bandwidths of the
order 20-30 nm, which can support pulses as short as 30 fs [Hutchinson 89]. Pulses as short as
6 fs have been produced in organic dyes [Fork 87], but they pose significant disadvantages.
Dye lasers often suffer from problems including photo-induced degredation, jet-flow
instabilities and thermal effects, which are difficult to control and can lead to unstable operation.
Solid state lasers have now almost completely superseded dye-based lasers as they offer large
tunability ranges and are more convenient to operate. Chromium-doped LiSAF (Cr
3+
:LiSrAlF
6
)
for example, offers ~250 nm of tunability centred at ~830 nm and may, conveniently, be
flashlamp pumped [Diels 96]. Titanium-doped sapphire (Ti
3+
:Al
2
O
3
) offers the largest
tunability of any laser gain medium: ~450 nm centred at ~780 nm [French 95]. Due to its short
upper-state lifetime, it is usual to pump titanium-doped sapphire using another laser, typically a
neodymium-doped YAG laser or CW argon-ion or solid-state equivalent. Lasing in titanium-

Introduction

25
doped sapphire was first achieved in 1986 by Moulton [Moulton 86], who also characterised the
gain medium.
For the purposes of this thesis, Kerr-lens modelocking in titanium-doped sapphire will
be described. This is the method and medium used in both the original and upgraded oscillators
of the Blackett Laboratory Laser Consortium ultrashort pulse, chirped pulse amplification laser
system.
1.2.1.2. Kerr-lens modelocking
In a laser cavity, there exists an infinite series of resonant frequencies defined by the
cavity length. The separation between these modes, in frequency space, is given by: = c/2L,
where c is the speed of light (ms
-1
) and L is the optical length of the cavity (m). The laser
transition in the gain medium has a finite width () as a result of line broadening mechanisms
(e.g. homogeneous vibronic broadening as in titanium-doped sapphire, or inhomogeneous
broadening as in glass-based media). This gain bandwidth limits the number of longitudinal
modes that can oscillate in the laser cavity. The spectrum of the cavity is then given by the
superposition of the gain profile over the continuum of discrete cavity modes. Normally these
modes lase independently giving a noisy, incoherent output with irregular coherent spikes
(formed when the modes oscillate in phase). The length of these spikes can be as short as the
coherence time of the laser, t
C
= 1/. Modelocking is the process of forcing these modes to
oscillate coherently, i.e. in phase or with a constant phase difference. When modelocking is
achieved, the output of the laser is a regular train of pulses separated by the cavity round-trip
time, T
RT
= 1/ given by the Fourier transform of the cavity spectrum described above. The
temporal profile of each pulse is given by the Fourier transform of the spectral gain profile (in
the case of transform limited pulses). When all the modes of the laser oscillate in phase or with
some constant phase difference, the pulses are said to be transform limited.
The methods used to mode lock a laser can be split into two main techniques: active and
passive modelocking. Active modelocking requires the radiation in the cavity to be modulated
at a rate matched to the cavity round trip time (by a device such as an acousto-optic or electro-
optic modulator). This modulation generates sidebands on the laser radiation modes, coupling
adjacent modes allowing them to oscillate in phase. With passive- (or self-) modelocking, the
intracavity radiation modulates itself through a nonlinear device (such as a saturable absorber or
an optical Kerr medium) placed inside the cavity. A fast saturable absorber (where the cavity
pulses are longer than the absorber recovery time) introduces a high loss in the cavity for low
intensity pulses, but low loss (and even pulse compression) for intense, pulsed radiation. The
shortest pulses produced have durations of the order of the absorber recovery time (typically as
short as a few picoseconds). A slow saturable absorber (where the cavity pulses are shorter than

Introduction

26
the absorber recovery time), in conjunction with a saturable amplifier, can produce the same
pulse compression as a fast saturable absorber and generate pulses shorter than the absorber
recovery time. This occurs when the parameters of the cavity are contrived such that the
saturable absorber steepens the leading edge of the pulse and the gain is saturated after the peak
of the pulse has passed, steepening the trailing edge. A medium that exhibits the optical Kerr
effect can act as a very fast (~1 fs) saturable absorber in the cavity. This provides an intensity
dependent loss in the cavity (through an induced Kerr-lens) and pulse compression is achieved
through temporal self-phase modulation. As the Kerr effect is essentially instantaneous, the
leading and trailing edges of the pulse see a weaker induced Kerr-lens than the central, more
intense part of the pulse. The following is a description of self-modelocking using the optical
Kerr effect.
In the regime of low intensity optics, the polarisation of a dielectric as a (linear)
function of electric field can be written as E P

= (Cm
-2
), where

is the permittivity of free


space (Fm
-1
), is the electric susceptibility (dimensionless) and E is the electric field (Vm
-1
).
As the electric field increases, the polarisation is no longer a linear function of electric field and
can be written generally as an expansion in E as:
( ) ...
3 ) 3 ( 2 ) 2 ( ) 1 (
+ + + = E E E P

. (1.2)
These higher order terms in electric field arise from the anharmonic motion of bound
electrons in a medium under an intense electric field (~GW/cm
2
). In a centro-symmetric
system, the
(2)
E
2
term (the Pockels effect) is zero. In the case of a high electric field, the
(3)
E
3

term becomes significant and can be written as n
2(E)
|E
2
|, where n
2(E)
is the nonlinear index of
refraction (m
2
V
-2
). This term produces two effects, third harmonic generation (which is
typically weak in non phase-matched systems and will be ignored here) and a time-averaged,
signal-induced refractive index change given by:
I n n n
2 0
+ = (1.3)
where I is intensity (I
2
/ E , Wm
-2
), n
0
is the linear refractive index and n
2
is the
nonlinear refractive index (also written as , m
2
W
-1
) (see also section 2.2.3). This is known as
the Kerr effect [Siegman 86]. The two definitions of the nonlinear refractive index are related
by n
2
= 3.7710
-3
n
2(E)
/n
0
(m
2
W
-1
). In nearly all materials, the Kerr effect has a positive sign
(n
2
> 0).
For a short pulse in a laser cavity the peak intensity can be high, and the Kerr term can
become significant. If the pulse has a Gaussian-type spatial profile, then the intensity dependent
refractive index change creates a positive lens, focusing the pulse (self-focusing, see section
2.2.3.1). The process of self-focusing within a Kerr medium in an oscillator cavity can give rise

Introduction

27
to Kerr-lens modelocking (KLM, also known as magic modelocking). The laser cavity is set
up so that the intense pulses focused in the gain medium through the Kerr effect suffer less loss
than lower intensity (including cw) radiation (Figure 1.3). In this way, the modelocked situation
is favoured over cw operation and intensity dependent pulse shaping occurs (compression of
pulses or noise spikes). Kerr-lens modelocking was first observed by Spence et al [Spence 91]
in a titanium-doped sapphire oscillator and explained as being due to self-focusing by Piche
[Piche 91].
To Dispersion
Compensation &
2
nd
Cavity Mirror
Cavity
Mirror
Low Intensity Beam
Gain Crystal
Pump
Mode-Locked Beam
Z-Cavity
Mirror
M1
M2

Figure 1.3 Schematic showing the configuration of mirrors around the gain medium in a Kerr-
lens modelocked cavity. Mirrors arranged such that, with the help of the Kerr effect, a high
intensity beam is collimated either side of mirrors M1 and M2, whereas a low intensity beam
diverges and suffers higher loss.
A schematic of the technique of Kerr-lens modelocking is shown in Figure 1.3. Aided
by the optical Kerr effect, mirror M1 produces a beam waist smaller for intense pulses than for
less intense cavity radiation. The smaller beam is then recollimated by mirror M2, whereas the
lower intensity radiation diverges on exit from M2. By placing an aperture after M2, the loss
for low intensity radiation is higher compared to the high intensity pulses. The waist of the
pump beam can be set to be slightly smaller than that of the high intensity beam. In this case,
the high intensity beam sees a better volume overlap with the pump beam than the larger waist,
low intensity beam, increasing gain extraction and so aiding mode locking this is known as
gain-guiding. If gain-guiding is optimised sufficiently, this soft-aperture can replace the
hard-aperture that is often placed after M2. A hard aperture was used in the original Laser
Consortium oscillator and gain-guiding in the upgraded, ultrashort pulse oscillator.
In order for a Kerr-lens modelocked oscillator to start mode locking, there needs to be
an intensity spike in the cavity large enough to experience strong Kerr-lens self-focusing. This
can be introduced into the cavity in a number of ways: acousto-optic modulators, regenerative
mode-locking, synchronous pumping, saturable absorption using a dye, semiconductor absorber,
moving mirror mode-locking in an external cavity, or by moving/tapping any intracavity mirror

Introduction

28
or optical component. These methods generate an intensity spike that can be used as a seed for
modelocking. The last method was used in both the original and upgraded Laser Consortium
short pulse oscillators.
1.2.1.3. Cavity dispersion compensation
The technique described in the preceding section is sufficient to construct a modelocked
cavity producing a train of short pulses. In order to produce the shortest possible pulses, there
must also be some form of compensation for the group-velocity dispersion that the short pulse
accumulates in the cavity [Brabec 92]. This group-velocity dispersion is introduced mainly
through temporal self-phase modulation in the gain medium. Compensation is usually in the
form of a prism sequence ([Proctor 92], [Zhou 94] and [Christov 94]) or chirped mirrors [Stingl
94] and [Stingl 95] in ultrashort pulse oscillators based on titanium-doped sapphire. Figure 1.4
shows a schematic of the double-passed prism pair used in both the original and upgraded Laser
Consortium short pulse oscillators.
GVD
Prism 1
Prism 2
Mirror

Figure 1.4 Schematic of a sequence of prisms that give adjustable group velocity dispersion
without net angular dispersion.
The first prism introduces angular dispersion (negative group-velocity dispersion) and
the second prism recollimates the beam. The mirror after the second prism is a cavity mirror
that also acts to double pass the dispersive system, removing the spatial chirp (this cavity mirror
clearly cannot be used as the output coupler). Frequency masking may be performed at this
mirror to tune the laser centre wavelength and/or control the bandwidth. The amount of group-
velocity dispersion introduced is proportional to the prism separation (measured between the
two prism apices) and to (dn/d)
2
(where is the laser angular frequency, radians s
-1
). There is
a positive group-velocity dispersion contribution from the prism material itself. This
contribution is proportional to d
2
n/d
2
and the amount of glass the beam passes through. The
net group-velocity dispersion can be controlled by translating the prisms along their axis of
symmetry. This is given, for Brewster angled prisms, by the second derivative of phase with
respect to angular frequency:

|
.
|

\
|

(
(

|
.
|

\
|
|
.
|

\
|
+ =

cos 2 sin
1
2 4
2
2
3
2
2
2
2
3
2
2
d
dn
n
n
d
dn
d
n d
l
c d
d
(1.4)

Introduction

29
where l is the separation of the prisms between the apices (metres), is the angular deviation of
the dispersed light from a reference drawn between the two prism apices and is the laser
wavelength (metres) (see also section 2.2.2) [Fork 84].
Further limitations to the duration of the oscillator output pulse arise from residual third
order dispersion introduced by the prism pair [Proctor 92]. For durations below 10 fs, the
length of the titanium-doped sapphire crystal itself is also a limiting factor [Christov 96].
1.2.2. Ultrashort pulse measurement
In this section, a selection of measurement techniques suitable for ultrashort pulses is
discussed. The first device, a far-field monitor, is not necessarily specific to short pulse
systems, but provides a means for setting up the compressor gratings and identifying beam
aberrations at each stage of the laser system. This is important as geometric aberrations
translate into temporal errors when the pulse is compressed. The second device, a single-shot
autocorrelator, is an instrument that has been built and used on both the original and upgraded
laser systems in order to optimise performance. The last two devices, FROG and SPIDER, have
not yet been used on the laser system, but represent the state-of-the-art in measurement of the
electric field of pulses from ultrafast laser systems. They are briefly included here as it is
intended that at least one of them will be used to optimise the output of the upgraded laser and
for reasons of completeness.
1.2.2.1. Far-field monitor
The far-field monitor is a simple device that images the focal spot of a laser beam. A
schematic of the monitor is shown in Figure 1.5. The input beam first encounters a lens similar
to one used to focus the laser in an experiment. Theoretically, a lens focuses rays from infinity
to a single point, therefore the focal plane is an image of the beam in the far field. The focal
spot is imaged, using a microscope objective lens (typically with a magnification between 10X
and 40X), onto the active array of a charge-coupled device (CCD) camera. The camera is a
sensitive device and the laser is very bright, so the input beam must be attenuated either by
taking reflections from (optical quality) glass plates or by using (optical quality) neutral density
filters. The picture, displayed on a video monitor connected to the camera, is an image of the
laser focal spot and of the beam in the far field. The dimensions of the image on the monitor
screen can be calibrated using an object of known dimensions (typically a 50 m wire).
The focal spot of the laser beam can be examined by translating the microscope
objective and camera backwards and forwards. Assuming the focusing lens and microscope
objective do not impose any aberrations, the aberrations of the input beam will be evident on the
monitor screen. Astigmatism, for example, would show up as a line focus that turns into a spot

Introduction

30
of least confusion and then back to a line focus (90 to the first line), as the focus is scanned in
the z direction.
Input
Beam
CCD
Camera
x
y
Microscope
Objective
Lens
z

Figure 1.5 Schematic of a far field monitor. CCD = charge-coupled device. Image viewed on a
video monitor connected to the camera.
Aberrations throughout the laser system can be detected and eliminated using this
device. The performance of the compressor is very sensitive to aberrations on the input beam
and imposes aberrations itself when misaligned (such as spatial chirp and astigmatism). If the
compressor diffraction gratings are not parallel to each other, the output beam will be
astigmatic. This will reduce the available focused intensity by increasing both the size of the
focused beam and the recompressed pulse duration. The far-field monitor may also be used to
measure the size of the focused beam for use in calculations of focused intensity. These are
typically cross-checked with independent measurements of the focused intensity (such as ion
appearance intensities).
1.2.2.2. Single-shot autocorrelator
The single-shot autocorrelator is a popular short pulse measurement device as it is
relatively simple to construct and a rapid measurement of the pulse duration may be made.
Many groups have used variations of this device, including [Mindl 83] and [Miyamoto 93], a
high dynamic range version has been used by [Braun 95] and [Curley 95] and even a version
where the correlation medium is a gas [Kobayashi 00].
Correlations are generally performed by combining a signal and reference pulse in a
nonlinear medium and using a detection device of some form to measure the resulting
correlation function. In general, an intensity correlation of order (n+1) may be written as:

( )
( ) ( ) ( )


+
= dt t I t I C
n
r s n

1
(1.5)
where is the temporal delay between the two pulses, ( ) t I
s
is the signal pulse intensity profile
to be measured and ( ) t I
n
r
is the reference pulse intensity profile. For an intensity
autocorrelation, ( ) t I
s
and ( ) t I
n
r
represent the same pulse, split using a Michelson
interferometer. This gives a correlation function that is symmetric and that can only provide a
measurement of the signal pulse duration when a specific temporal profile is assumed. If the
signal pulse profile is assumed to be sech
2
, the width of the autocorrelation must be divided by
1.543. If the signal pulse profile is Gaussian, the deconvolution factor is 1.414.

Introduction

31
In the limit where the reference pulse tends towards a delta function,
( ) ( ) t t I
n
r n


lim , the correlation function
( )
( ) t C
n 1 +
tends towards the signal pulse, ( ) t I
s
. In
this manner, a third order autocorrelation, which uses a third order nonlinearity (third harmonic
generation), produces a correlation that gives a better reproduction of the shape of the signal
pulse. The correlation performed is between the signal pulse at centre laser frequency
0
, and
the frequency doubled signal pulse at 2
0
in the nonlinear medium producing a correlation at
3
0
. It is also asymmetric so features that occur before and after the main pulse can be
distinguished.
Input
Pulse
CCD
Camera
Second Harmonic
Crystal
t
Lens
Lens
BS

Figure 1.6 Schematic of a single-shot autocorrelator. BS = beamsplitter and CCD = charge-
coupled device. Image viewed on a video monitor connected to the camera.
A second-order single-shot autocorrelator is constructed by splitting the signal pulse in
a Michelson interferometer and combining the resulting pulses in a second harmonic crystal
(such as KDP, KTP or BBO). Figure 1.6 shows a schematic of such a device. In order that the
autocorrelation is single-shot, the two replica pulses are brought together at an angle in the
harmonic crystal. By doing this, the phase fronts of the two pulses are tilted with respect to
each other, at an angle related to and the refractive index of the harmonic crystal. The two
arms of the interferometer must be arranged such that each pulse travels exactly the same
optical distance between the beamsplitter and the harmonic crystal. Additionally, the crystal
must be angled such that the wave vectors of the replica signal pulses satisfy the phase-
matching condition: k
s1
+ k
s2
= k
C
, where k
s1
and k
s2
are the wave vectors of the two signal pulse
replicas and k
C
is the wave vector of the second harmonic correlation beam. The spatial width
of the overlap of the two beams in the crystal, d (full-width-half-maximum diameter), is related
to the full-width-half-maximum duration of the signal pulse by:

( )
c
d
t
2 / sin
= (1.6)

Introduction

32
where c is the speed of light (ms
-1
) and is the form factor that depends on the shape of the
pulse ( = 1.414 for a Gaussian temporal profile and 1.543 for a sech
2
pulse) [Kolmeder 79].
It is usual to image the beam crossover onto the active array of a charge-coupled device
(CCD) camera. The image on the screen can either be calibrated using the magnification given
by the lens, or by translating one arm of the interferometer and equating the change in path
length to a temporal delay. If an arm of the interferometer is translated by x metres and the
autocorrelation on the screen moves by n pixels, then:

cn
x
pixel
2
1 = . (1.7)
Because the signal and reference beams are crossed in the harmonic crystal, the single-shot
autocorrelation is background-free (except for scatter in the crystal). There is no contribution to
the correlation signal from a single beam; the detected correlation is zero in the absence of
either the signal or reference beam.
As an aside, an interferometric autocorrelation may be obtained by a small modification
to the single-shot device. The Michelson interferometer is arranged such that the two emerging
pulses are collinear. These are then passed through a harmonic crystal and the resulting
radiation detected in a photomultiplier. An interferogram is produced when one arm of the
interferometer is translated (slowly) so the reference pulse passes through the signal pulse [Diels
85]. The form of the interferogram for a second order nonlinear process is as follows:
( ) ( ) ( ) [ ] { }


+ = dt t E t E C
s r I
2
2
2
(1.8)
where E
s
(t) and E
r
(t) are the signal and reference pulse electric field functions. This device
however is not single-shot; multiple pulses are required to build up the interferogram.
Additionally the interferogram is not background-free as the signal and reference beams are
collinear. There is a factor of eight difference between the background and peak signal of an
interferometric autocorrelation. If the interferometer arm is translated quickly, only the
envelope of the interferogram is recorded. There is a factor of only three difference between the
background and peak signal in this case. It has been demonstrated that the harmonic crystal and
photomultiplier of this type of autocorrelator may be replaced by an ordinary light emitting
diode (LED) reducing cost and complexity [Reid 97]. The diode is used as a voltage source
with a second order response to the incident light intensity (V
diode
I
in
2
).
For ultrashort pulses great care must be taken not to pre-stretch the pulse before it is
measured. Pre-stretching will occur in the autocorrelator if the beamsplitter is excessively thick.
To work around this problem an autocorrelator was developed that did not use a conventional
beamsplitter. Instead, it used the apex of a 90 gold-plated prism to separate the input beam into
two halves. As long as the beam is large (>~10 mm diameter) and there is no difference in

Introduction

33
pulse duration across the beam, then this is a viable technique. Problems arise when the beam is
small, as diffraction from the hard edge of the prism (that can be apertured close to the harmonic
crystal when large beams are used) interferes with the correlation measurement. Cross-
correlations between different parts of the beam may be performed by aperturing after the beam
has been split. This would be a convenient way of measuring how the pulse duration changes
across a beam after propagating through a chirped pulse amplification laser system, where a
combination of aberrations in the stretcher and self-phase modulation may cause this to occur.
1.2.2.3. FROG
FROG is an acronym for frequency-resolved optical gating [Kane 93a]. This technique
consists of two parts: experimental generation of a FROG trace and a phase-retrieval algorithm
that converts this trace into the temporal phase and intensity of the signal pulse. The generation
of the FROG trace may be achieved in several different ways, but all have in common a
correlation of the signal pulse followed by a measurement of the pulse spectrum. The FROG
trace is a two-dimensional plot with one axis representing the time delay of the correlator and
the other axis representing the wavelength components of the pulse from a spectrometer. The
intensity distribution in the trace may be described by the following expression:
( ) ( ) ( )
2
exp ,
~
,


= dt t i t E I
s FROG
(1.9)
where ( ) ,
~
t E
s
is the signal field, which depends on the method used to correlate the pulse.
Reference [DeLong 96] gives a good description of frequency resolved optical gating and
describes four different correlation methods.
For the purposes of this discussion the second harmonic FROG will be discussed
[DeLong 94]. Figure 1.7 shows an example of a schematic for producing a FROG trace. The
signal electric field produced by the second harmonic correlation is given by:
( ) ( ) ( ) = t E t E t E
s
~ ~
,
~
(1.10)
where is the delay between the two replica pulses, ( ) t E
~
is the complex envelope of the pulse
with the carrier frequency removed and ( ) t E
~
is the gate pulse. In the same way as the
second harmonic correlation is restrictive, as it always returns a symmetric trace, second
harmonic FROG is also restrictive. The second harmonic FROG is always symmetric about
and leads to an ambiguity in the retrieved electric field with respect to time.

Introduction

34
Input
Pulse
CCD
Array
Second Harmonic
Crystal
t

Lens
BS
Prism

Figure 1.7 Schematic of a second harmonic frequency resolved optical gate device for
retrieving the full complex field of the signal pulse. The prism acts as a rudimentary
spectrometer. Adapted from figure 5 of [Kapteyn 99]. BS = beamsplitter.
This leads into the computational aspect of FROG, the conversion of the FROG trace
into the temporal phase and intensity of the signal pulse. The reconstruction of the complex
electric field of the signal pulse reduces to extracting ( ) ,
~
t E
s
from the FROG trace (as
( ) ,
~
t E
s
is proportional to ( ) t E
~
when the gate function is infinitely long). The FROG trace
intensity function can be rewritten in terms of the Fourier transform of ( ) ,
~
t E
s
( ) ( )

,
~
t E
s

with respect to as:
( ) ( ) ( )
2
exp ,
~
, dt d t i t i t E I
s FROG


+ = . (1.11)
To get ( )

,
~
t E
s
(which leads to ( ) t E
~
via the inverse Fourier transform and the
relation ( ) t E
~
= ( ) ,
~
t E
s
d, for all time) from equation 1.11 is a two-dimensional (t and )
phase-retrieval problem. Details of the iterative reconstruction algorithm can be found in
[Trebino 93] and [Kane 93b]. One drawback of the FROG is that the algorithm can return
ambiguous results for the pulse properties [Fittinghoff 95].
1.2.2.4. SPIDER
SPIDER is an acronym for spectral phase interferometry for direct electric-field
reconstruction ([Iaconis 99], [Gallmann 99]). Like FROG, the SPIDER technique is split into
two halves: generation of a SPIDER trace and an algorithm to retrieve the temporal phase and
intensity of the signal pulse. SPIDER is based on a concept known as spectral interferometry
(SI) [Froehly 73], where the signal pulse is combined with a delayed reference pulse (whose
electric field profile is known) in an interferometer. The resulting spectral interferogram is
given by
( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) [ ] + + + =
s r s r s r SI
E E E E I cos
~ ~ ~ ~
,
2 2
(1.12)

Introduction

35
where ( )
r
E
~
is the electric field of the reference pulse, ( )
s
E
~
is the electric field of the signal
pulse and is the temporal delay between the two pulses.
The retrieval of spectral phase and intensity from this interferogram is simple and
noniterative. The first step is to take the Fourier transform of the spectrogram. As long as the
temporal delay of the two pulses is longer than the pulse duration, one of the sidebands of the
transform can be filtered out. The inverse transform of this sideband yields the complex
spectral phase of the difference between the signal and reference pulses ( ) ( ) ( )
s r
.
Experiments by Fittinghoff et al [Fittinghoff 96] characterised ultrashort pulses by this method,
using FROG to determine the electric field of the reference pulse. A combination of spectral
interferometry and FROG is known as: temporal analysis by dispersing a pair of light electric
fields (TADPOLE).
In order to make a measurement of a signal pulse, without requiring a known reference
pulse, a technique known as spectral shearing interferometry (SSI) can be used. This method is
similar to spectral interferometry, but in this case, the signal and reference pulses are frequency-
shifted versions of the input pulse. The two frequency shifted replicas are combined in an
interferometer, and the resulting interferogram is given by:

( ) ( ) ( )
( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) [ ]

+ + + + +
+ + + + =
2 1 2 1
2
2
2
1 2 1
cos
~ ~
~ ~
, , ,
s s s s
s s SSI
E E
E E I
(1.13)
where the two input pulse replicas have been frequency shifted by
1
and
2
([Zubov 91],
[Wong 94]).
The technique known as SPIDER is a version of spectral shearing interferometry where
the frequency shifted replicas are produced by mixing two temporally delayed pulses with a
stretched pulse in a nonlinear medium [Dorrer 98]. A typical schematic of the technique is
shown in Figure 1.8.
The input pulse is initially split into two halves. One is sent through a dispersive delay
line (typically a grating pair) to stretch and chirp the pulse. The other is sent through a
Michelson interferometer to produce a pair of pulses with temporal delay . For the case that
the nonlinear crystal is a
(2)
medium, when the pulse pair and stretched pulse are combined two
pulses emerge frequency upconverted but separated by a frequency shift proportional to and
the magnitude of the long pulses chirp. The two upconverted pulses then enter a spectrometer
and an interferogram described by equation 1.13 is produced. In this case
1
=
0
and
2
=
0
+
and the spectral interferometry inversion routine described above can be used to find the
phase difference between the sheared spectra. A review of the history of the SPIDER is given
in [Walmsley 99] and its use is reported on in [Shuman 99], [Dorrer 99a] and [Dorrer 99b].

Introduction

36
Input
Pulse
CCD
Array

I
Dispersive
Delay
Spectrometer
BS BS
Lens
Nonlinear Crystal

BS

Figure 1.8 Schematic of a typical spectral phase interferometer for direct electric-field
reconstruction. Dispersive delay section is often comprised of a grating pair. BS =
beamsplitter.
1.3. Chirped pulse amplification
In order to produce high intensities in a laser system, a technique called chirped pulse
amplification is employed [Strickland 85] and [Maine 88]. Direct amplification of femtosecond
pulses to high intensities leads to nonlinear pulse degradation and optical damage through self-
phase modulation and self-focusing. In order to avoid these effects, advantage is taken of the
fact that a temporally short pulse must be accompanied by a large associated bandwidth through
the following relation:

=

(Gaussian) 0.441
) (sech 0.315
2
2
0

t c
(1.14)
where t is the full-width-half-maximum pulse duration (seconds), is the full-width-half-
maximum pulse bandwidth (metres), c is the speed of light (metres s
-1
) and
0
is the laser centre
wavelength. This is a specific result for two common pulse shapes which follows from the
more general uncertainty relationship 2 / h E t . When a short pulse propagates through a
dispersive delay line, it emerges temporally stretched with a time dependent frequency or chirp.
The consequent increase in pulse duration decreases the peak intensity, so avoiding damage due
to the nonlinear response of optical media. The equation for the electric field of a Gaussian
pulse can be written as:
( )
( ) ( )
. .
2
0
2 2
0
c c
E
t E
e e
t t i t a
+ |
.
|

\
|
=
+
(1.15)
where E
0
is the peak electric field (Vm
-1
), the first exponent is the Gaussian pulse envelope
where a is related to the pulse duration by t = (2ln2)

/a, the second exponent is the oscillating



Introduction

37
light field with central frequency
0
(radians s
-1
) and temporal phase (t); c.c. represents the
complex conjugate. If d
2
(t)/dt
2
= is non-zero, the light field frequency changes through the
pulse; is called the chirp parameter (or frequency sweep rate, radians s
-2
). If d
2
(t)/dt
2
> 0, the
carrier frequency increases with time, this is known as up-chirp. If d
2
(t)/dt
2
< 0, the carrier
frequency decreases with time, this is known as down-chirp.

P A
B
B
Q
Q
F
G


Figure 1.9 Schematic of a parallel diffraction grating pair compressor. The green arrow
labelled shows manner in which rays of increasing wavelength are diffracted. On exiting the
grating pair, the beam is spatially dispersed. Figure adapted from [Treacy 69], figure 1.
A parallel diffraction grating pair, as shown in Figure 1.9, will give a negative chirp
(higher frequencies lead lower frequencies). The separation between, and the angles of the
gratings determines the magnitude of the chirp. In Figure 1.9, the ray path length PABQ in
metres is equal to:
( ) ( ) ( ) ( )
( )



d
d
c c G p = = + = cos 1 sec (1.16)
where G is the perpendicular distance between the gratings (metres), and () are the grating
input and diffracted angles respectively, is the associated group delay (seconds), () is the
frequency dependent phase and is angular frequency (radians s
-1
). The relationship between
and () for first order diffraction is written as sin() + sin = d, the grating equation, where
d is the grating constant (lines m
-1
). The frequency dependent phase for the grating pair can be
written as:
( ) ( )

tan 2 d G
c
p
= . (1.17)
The origin of the second term on the right is in the nature of the diffraction grating (see also
section 3.2.3.3). An addition of -2 radians phase delay must be added for every groove on the
diffraction grating from a point perpendicularly opposite point A in the figure, to the
intersection of the diffracted ray at point B, F = Gtan(). G is related to the separation

Introduction

38
between the two gratings along the path of the central wavelength ray at
0
, b, by b = Gsec(
0
).
b is referred to as the grating separation throughout this thesis.
The expression for phase as a function of angular frequency may be Taylor expanded
about the centre frequency,
0
, as follows:
( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) K + + + + =
3
0
3
2
0
2
0 1 0
! 3 ! 2

(1.18)
where
i
is defined as:

( )
0

i
i
i
d
d
= s
i
. (1.19)
The first two terms on the right-hand side of equation 1.18 add constant phase for all
frequencies;
1
is simply p/c, the group delay. The third term corresponds to the linear chirp;
2

is given by:

( )

3 2
2
2
cos 2
sin sin
dc
G +
= . (1.20)
where
0
= (
0
). Higher order terms add high order phase, or high order chirp it is these
terms that cause problems in chirp pulse amplification with ultrashort pulses.
For chirped pulse amplification, a system that adds opposite chirp to the grating pair is
required. Such a system, conceived by Martinez in 1987 [Martinez 87a] is shown in Figure
1.10. A unit magnification telescope is placed between two antiparallel diffraction gratings
giving a negative effective grating separation.

(
0
)

z
G1 G2
L2 L1
z
G1
z
P
Q
A
B

Figure 1.10 Antiparallel diffraction grating pair forming a Martinez [Martinez 87a] style
stretcher that adds opposite chirp to the parallel grating pair of Figure 1.9. f is the focal length
of lens L1 and f is the focal length of lens L2. G1 is the image of grating G1.
For the general case of a telescope of angular magnification M (= f f / ) between two
diffraction gratings, the angular dispersion from grating G1 is magnified by a factor M giving
Md()/d. In order that the output from grating G2 is collimated, the grating constant of G2
must be Md
1
, where d
1
is the grating constant of G1 (lines m
-1
). To allow folding about the
focal plane between the two lenses and so as not to have mismatched grating constants, the
magnification of the telescope is set to M = 1, f = f. Mismatched grating constants in the

Introduction

39
stretcher and compressor have been used in chirped pulse amplification by some groups to
compensate for material dispersion in the amplifier chain ([Squier 98], for example).
The unit magnification telescope produces an image of grating G1 behind grating G2
giving a negative effective grating separation, b = -(z + z). This distance is the separation
between the gratings along the ray with centre wavelength
0
. b is related to the perpendicular
grating separation, G, by b = -Gsec(
0
). Now the path length of a ray along PABQ in Figure
1.10 can be written as:
( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) + = cos 1 sec G p . (1.21)
This exactly matches the expression for path length in equation 1.16 but with opposite sign,
meaning the two systems are complementary. Consequently, the expressions for group delay
and linear chirp are also complementary. The only difference between them is the two lenses in
the telescope system. As long as the lenses introduce no aberrations, the group delay and chirp
added by the telescope system will be exactly removed by the parallel grating pair. Aberrations
add high order phase in the telescope system that is uncompensable by the simple parallel
grating pair.
We now have two systems that add opposite chirp, which may be used at the start and
end of a chirped pulse amplification laser system. It is usual to place the telescope-based
system at the beginning of the laser to act as a stretcher and to use the parallel grating pair at the
end of the system as a compressor. This is because high fluences at the end of the system would
cause nonlinear pulse degradation in the lenses of the telescope of the antiparallel grating
system. Stretch factors as high as 10,000 have been produced by antiparallel grating pairs of
this type [Salin 92]. A schematic of the technique of chirped pulse amplification is shown in
Figure 1.11. Nonlinear effects and material dispersion in the amplification system can cause
mismatches between the stretcher and compressor. For this reason, material path length and
pulse intensities are kept to a minimum throughout the amplification stages of the laser system.
Amplificat ion
I nput
Pulse
St ret cher
St ret ched Pulse Amplif ied,
St ret ched Pulse
Out put
Pulse
Compressor

Figure 1.11 Schematic of the technique of chirped pulse amplification.

Introduction

40
1.4. Short pulse amplifiers
An amplification medium ideally suited for chirped pulse amplification should have
(amongst other things) the following properties:
High saturation fluence. The saturation fluence gives a measure of the size of amplifier
aperture required to extract a given amount of energy (related to emission cross-section
of the gain medium).
Broad gain bandwidth. In order to amplify femtosecond pulses, the gain of the
amplification medium must be larger than the bandwidth of the pulse to avoid the
effects of gain narrowing (see section 2.2.1.4).
Long upper-state lifetime. The upper-state lifetime determines the pumping method
employed to provide gain in the amplifier medium. A long upper-state lifetime allows
flashlamps or laser diodes to be used as a pump source. A short upper-state lifetime
requires a laser-pumping source. The upper-state lifetime also has a bearing on the
contribution from amplified spontaneous emission from the amplifier.
High gain coefficient. Related to the emission cross-section, the gain of the amplifier
medium must be high to reduce the material the short pulses pass through. This is
important for ultrashort pulse systems, as excess group velocity dispersion leads to
reduction in fidelity of recompressed pulses.
Good thermal conductivity. The thermal conductivity has a large influence on the
maximum repetition rate of the laser system. Distortions on the seed beam can occur as
it passes through the gain medium due to the large amounts of thermal energy deposited
by pump sources. Neodymium-doped glass (Nd:glass) and chromium-doped LiSrAlF
6

(Cr:LiSAF) with their low thermal conductivities tend to be used at a low repetition
rate, whereas titanium-doped sapphire (Ti:Al
2
O
3
/Ti:Saph) can be used at rates up to a
few kilohertz.
In practice, no one material gives the best performance for all these requirements and some
compromise must be made. Table 1.1 gives a summary of these characteristics for some,
common short pulse gain media.

Introduction

41

Medium U
sat
(Jcm
-2
)
0
(nm) (nm) (s)
e
(cm
2
) (WmK
-1
)
Organic dyes ~10
-3
300-1000 50 10
-2
-10
-6
10
-16

Nd:glass** ~7 ~1053 ~21 ~350 310
-20
~1
Cr
3+
:LiSrAlF
6
5 ~830 ~250 ~60 310
-20
~1
Ti
3+
:Al
2
O
3
0.8 ~780 ~450 ~3 310
-19
34
Table 1.1 Summary of characteristics for a range of common, short pulse amplification media
([Diels 96], [Nees 98] and [Nikogosyan 97]). U
sat
= saturation fluence,
0
= gain centre
wavelength, = gain bandwidth, = upper-state lifetime,
e
= emission cross-section and
= thermal conductivity. the thermal conductivity of organic dyes depends on the solvent
used; it is also of less importance as the dye is circulated through a jet, therefore the thermal
restrictions on repetition rate are relaxed. ** glass here refers to phosphate glas.
The saturation fluence (Jcm
-2
) for a four-level laser gain medium is given by the
following relation:

e
e
sat
h
U

= (1.22)
where h is Plancks constant and
e
is the emission cross-section (cm
2
) at frequency
e
(Hz)
[Svelto 93]. This quantity represents the maximum energy per unit cross-sectional area that can
be extracted from the gain medium and is defined as the fluence required to deplete the
available energy to e
-1
of its original value. For example, a typical organic dye would require an
aperture of around 500 cm
2
to generate 1 J of optical energy. In contrast, titanium-doped
sapphire would require an aperture of just 1.3 cm
2
and neodymium-doped glass an aperture of
0.14 cm
2
to generate the same amount of energy. Saturation of the gain in chirped pulse
amplification laser systems is typically avoided as this can lead to a spectrally weighted gain,
which broadens the recompressed pulse duration. Although, working close to saturation can
benefit stability for example in regenerative amplifiers (section 1.4.2).
The minimum duration attainable by a gain medium is related to 1/, where is the
gain bandwidth of the medium. Due to the effects of gain narrowing (see section 2.2.1.4) in
short pulse amplifiers, the bandwidth of the gain medium must be many times greater than the
bandwidth of the required amplified pulse. After n passes of a medium with gain bandwidth ,
a pulse with an initially flat spectral profile will have a bandwidth of ()
n
. Titanium-doped
sapphire has the largest percentage bandwidth of any current laser medium [French 95].
The upper-state lifetime () of a medium is a measure of how long gain is available (in
the limit where the pump pulse duration is shorter than ), or how quickly stationary gain is
reached (if the pump pulse duration is longer than ) after it has been pumped. A medium that
has a long upper-state lifetime may be pumped efficiently with flashlamps or laser diodes (e.g.
neodymium:glass and chromium:LiSAF). A medium with a short upper-state lifetime must be

Introduction

42
pumped by another laser (e.g. organic dyes and titanium:sapphire). The magnitude of the
upper-state lifetime also determines the contributions from amplified spontaneous emission.
The power of the radiation from amplified spontaneous emission is inversely proportional to the
upper-state lifetime [Svelto 93].
Both saturation fluence and gain coefficient are related to the emission cross section of a
medium. A low emission cross-section means the seed pulse will interact weakly with the gain
medium, requiring long interaction lengths. High emission cross-sections lead to low saturation
fluences and therefore, rapid depletion of the available gain. Titanium-doped sapphire has a
small emission cross-section and so requires many passes to extract maximum gain
(regenerative amplification, section 1.4.2). Conversely, organic dyes have a high emission
cross-section requiring only single or multi stage amplification.
For ultrashort pulses (<50 fs), the best choice of medium has to be titanium-doped
sapphire, mainly due to its broad gain bandwidth. It has a short upper-state lifetime and must
therefore be pumped by another laser (typically, an argon-ion or solid-state equivalent for
continuous wave operation, and a frequency-doubled YAG for pulsed operation). It has a
moderately large saturation fluence, so can only be used to amplify to the hundreds of
millijoules to a few Joules level. Many passes of the inverted medium must be made in order to
extract all the available energy due to its small emission cross-section. This does not pose a
significant problem as its upper-state lifetime is long compared to the transit time of a seed
pulse on a standard optical table. Its relatively high thermal conductivity also allows it to be
used at up to kilohertz repetition rates.
For the purposes of this thesis, two amplifier configurations are described: multi-pass
configuration and regenerative amplification. Each method is outlined with respect to
amplifying ultrashort pulses in titanium-doped sapphire.
1.4.1. Multi-pass configuration
In order to efficiently extract the energy in a gain medium, the seed pulse must have
close to (order of magnitude) the saturation fluence. For this reason multiple stages of
amplification are required, with increasing aperture, in order to meet this condition. The multi-
pass configuration is a popular form of amplifier, used by many groups as the sole method of
amplification of ultrashort pulses ([Antonetti 97], [Backus 97]). The gain medium has to be
passed several times in systems with small emission cross sections (e.g. titanium-doped
sapphire) in order to extract all the available gain. The method uses a single gain region passed
once by one or more pump beams, and passed several times by the seed pulse ([Downer 84],
[Curley 96]). This is distinct from multi-stage single pass configurations, where several gain
media (with low saturation fluences) are individually pumped and consecutively single-passed

Introduction

43
by the seed pulse (a method often used on low repetition rate, high pulse energy systems, [Fork
82], [Danson 98]).
In order to make the amplifier suitable for short pulses, the total material path length
should be minimised and the gain should not be heavily saturated. In this type of amplifier, the
only way to do this is by decreasing the length of the gain medium. Consequently, the active
ion doping level must be increased in order to maintain the same total gain factor. In chirped
pulse amplification, the wavelength changes with time through the pulse. Saturation of the
amplifier causes uneven spectral gain and therefore a reduction in pulse bandwidth and an
increase in recompressed pulse duration (see section 2.2.1.4). Saturation should thus be avoided
in chirped pulse amplification laser systems.
1.4.2. Regenerative amplification
As mentioned in the previous section, gain media such as titanium-doped sapphire that
have a low interaction cross-section need to be multi-passed in order to extract all the available
energy. An efficient method of doing this is to use the method of regenerative amplification
[Sizer 81]. A schematic of the general principle of regenerative amplification is shown in
Figure 1.12 although various configurations are possible (see for example references below).
gain PC1 PC2
P1 P2
M1 M2
In Out

Figure 1.12 Schematic showing the principle of regenerative amplification. M1/M2 represent
cavity mirrors, P1/P2 represent polarisers and PC1/PC2 represent Pockels cells.
In regenerative amplification, a pulse is switched into a cavity containing a gain
medium, makes multiple passes, and is then switched out using a series of Pockels cells. The
regenerative amplifier cavity is defined by mirrors M1 and M2. A seed pulse enters via
polariser P1 and is locked into the cavity when Pockels cell PC1 is switched quarter wave. Just
before the seed pulse arrives at the gain medium, the pump pulse arrives, providing population
inversion. The seed pulse grows in energy as it passes up and down the cavity until it has
gained the required amount of energy. After the final pass of the gain medium, Pockels cell
PC2 is switched quarter wave so the pulse is rejected by polariser P2. Regenerative amplifiers
can provide total gain factors as high as ~10
7
. Many groups use variations of this design to
amplify picojoule to nanojoule pulses up to the millijoule level as part of a larger chirped pulse
amplification laser system ([Rudd 93], [Takeuchi 94] and [Faure 99], for example).
In order to make regenerative amplifiers support short pulses, the total material path
length must be kept to a minimum and the optical components must support large bandwidths.

Introduction

44
The total path length can be minimised by reducing the thickness of each cavity component, for
example, by exchanging the cube polarisers for thin film polarisers. The total path can also be
reduced by increasing the gain per pass (or reducing single pass losses or both), by increasing
the pump energy and/or increasing the doping level in the crystal so that the number of round-
trips can be reduced. Bandwidth sensitive components include polarisers and all components
that have thin film coated surfaces (Pockels cells and cavity mirrors). The gain medium -
titanium-doped sapphire - is often Brewster cut for minimal losses. See section 2.2.1.3 and
section 2.2.1.4 for discussions of how the bandwidth of the seed pulse can be reduced and
shifted after many passes of the gain medium.
Regenerative amplifiers may be run slightly into saturation in order to reduce shot-to-
shot fluctuations, which can arise from variations in the input pulse energy and pump pulse
energy. They also provide isolation between the oscillator and the rest of the amplifier chain as
the profile of the switched-out beam and its pointing stability are set by the mode and stability
of the amplifier cavity, rather than that of the oscillator.
1.5. Blackett Laboratory Laser Consortium
titanium-doped sapphire chirped pulse
amplification laser system
The Blackett Laboratory Laser Consortium has two complementary chirped pulse
amplification systems. The first is based on neodymium:glass as the amplification medium and
produces 2 ps pulses with up to a Joule of energy at 1053 nm. The other (the subject of this
thesis) is a short pulse system based on titanium-doped sapphire as the amplification medium.
Before upgrade, the system delivered 150 fs pulses with up to 40 mJ of energy at 780 nm
[Fraser 96]. Figure 1.13 shows a schematic of this laser.
The front-end of the system was a home-built short pulse oscillator pumped by a
mainframe argon-ion laser. The oscillator required 5.5 W all lines visible (blue and green) from
the argon-ion to produce 100 fs pulses with a sech
2
temporal profile and an average power of
160 mW. The oscillator forms the basis for the whole system as it provides the short pulses to
be amplified and a trigger to time subsequent pump lasers and Pockels cells. For this reason it
is the most critical part of the laser system. Unfortunately, the argon-ion laser had no means of
beam stabilisation and this meant the beam moved as the laboratory temperature changed and as
the laser warmed up. This in turn made the oscillator and consequently the rest of the system
unstable. The first part of the upgrade is to replace the argon-ion with a solid-state device that
reliably pumps the oscillator. This then forms the basis for a stable laser system as a whole.

Introduction

45
Solid State Replacement
Nd:YAG Laser 1
Argon Ion Laser
Nd:YAG Laser 3
Femtosecond Oscillator
KML Oscillator
Regenerative Amplifier
5(4) Pass Amplifier
2 Pass Amplifier
Pulse Stretcher
Pulse Compressor
Short-Pulse Stretcher
Short-Pulse Compressor
Nd:YAG Laser 2
5.5W All Lines Visible
100fs, 2nJ
Pulse Train
@ 780nm
4.5W @ 532nm
260ps, 2nJ
Chirped Pulses
@ 780nm
260ps, 2mJ
Chirped Pulses
@ 780nm
90mJ @ 532nm
280ps, 80mJ
Chirped Pulses
@ 780nm
400mJ @ 532nm
800mJ
@ 532nm
~100mJ
@ 532nm
35fs, 2nJ
Pulse Train
@ 800nm
300ps, 2nJ Chirped
Pulses @ 800nm
300ps, 2mJ Chirped
Pulses @ 800nm
300ps, 5mJ Chirped
Pulses @ 800nm
300ps, 200mJ Chirped
Pulses @ 800nm
40fs, 100mJ Pulse
Train @ 800nm & 10Hz
150fs, 40mJ Pulse
Train @ 780nm & 10Hz

Figure 1.13 Schematic of the Blackett Laboratory Laser Consortium titanium-doped sapphire
chirped pulse amplification laser system before being upgraded. Proposed upgrades shown by
dotted lines and half-tone colours. KML = Kapteyn and Murnane Laboratories.
The next stage in the laser system forms the first component in chirped pulse
amplification. The 100 fs pulses are stretched by a factor of 2600 to 260 ps by a double-passed
lens-based stretcher. The stretcher is based on the design by Martinez [Martinez 87a] described
in section 1.3. It is folded at the plane between the two lenses so that only one lens and one
diffraction grating are required. The holographic diffraction grating has a ruling density of
2000 lines/mm and dimensions 57 mm 37 mm. The input and output paths are separated by a
small vertical displacement of the beams. The system is double-passed to remove the spatial
chirp added by a single pass. This stretcher is suitable for long-pulse (100 fs) operation but
limits the final recompressed pulse duration to an increase of 50% over the input duration. This
is due to chromatic and spherical aberration imposed by the lens.
The next stage of the laser system is the first stage of amplification a regenerative
amplifier. This efficiently increases the pulse energy by a factor of 10
6
and selects a train of
pulses at 10 Hz. The 20 mm titanium-doped sapphire crystal is pumped with ~90 mJ from a
Continuum Surelite II neodymium:YAG laser [Continuum] in a 5 ns pulse. The seed pulse
passes the amplifier cavity 36 times before being switched out with an energy of 2 mJ. The

Introduction

46
oscillator is isolated from the regenerative amplifier by a Faraday isolator this stops leakage
pulses from the amplifier interrupting the modelocking of the oscillator. A significant problem
with this amplifier is that it can generate too much intensity in the cavity before switch-out. The
stretched pulse duration is a little too short and results in the Pockels cell being surface burned
and drilled on a regular basis. The upgrade will include an increase in stretched pulse duration.
The second and final stage of amplification is provided by a five-pass power amplifier.
A 15 mm cube titanium-doped sapphire crystal is pumped with ~400 mJ from a BMI
neodymium:YAG [BMI] in a 5 ns pulse. The beam from this pump laser is split into two halves
of equal energy that pump the crystal from both sides to produce a more uniform pump volume.
After five passes, the seed pulse has an energy of 80 mJ, an amplification factor of 40. Due to
thermal lensing and the odd number of passes of the gain, the output beam has slight residual
astigmatism.
Finally, the pulse is recompressed using a parallel diffraction grating pair. The
holographic diffraction gratings have a ruling density of 2000 lines/mm and dimensions
110 mm 40 mm. The diffraction efficiency after four encounters of the gratings is 50%,
therefore the output pulse energy is 40 mJ. The recompressed pulse duration is 150 fs, 50%
longer than the input duration due to a mismatch between the stretcher and compressor arising
from the use of lenses in the stretcher. At the peak of performance (full 40 mJ), the laser
provided a focused intensity of 6.710
16
Wcm
-2
, assuming a sech
2
temporal profile and a lens of
focal length 30 cm producing a two-times diffraction limited spot.
1.6. PhD chronology
In order to give an idea of the order in which the work for this PhD was conducted, this
section includes a PhD chronology. Figure 1.14 is a schematic of the approximate chronology
split into laser (upper half) and experimental (lower half) work.
Oct/95 Oct/96 Oct/97 Oct/98
Cluster Ions
Cluster HHG
S-T E of HHG
C
60
Two Colour
Laser
Apprenticeship
CPQuick
CPTrace
CPTrace3D
Modelling
Upgrade
CLEO
Varenna

Figure 1.14 Approximate chronology of work conducted during PhD.
S-T E of HHG = Spatio-Temporal Evolution of High Harmonic Generation.

Introduction

47
At the beginning of the PhD work (October 1995) there existed the titanium doped
sapphire laser system described in the previous section. My first task was to learn how to
operate and more importantly optimise this system. This facilitated the rapid learning of the
physics involved in the technique of chirped pulse amplification and of each associated
component (oscillator, amplifiers, etc.). During this laser apprenticeship, the initial stages of
the modelling were conducted.
In order to design the components necessary for an upgrade of the laser, it was felt that
a model was needed in order to compare existing systems (from the literature) as well as to test
our own ideas. At this time, there was no commercial package (to which we had access) that
could model this type of laser in detail. The first general model written (CPQuick, see chapter
3), was designed in order to gain an understanding of how the parameters of chirped pulse
amplification lasers were related (such as finite optic sizes, stretching factor, grating separation
etc.). The first ray-tracing model written (CPTrace, see chapter 3) was derived from an
achromatic doublet design code written during my MSc work. In September 1997, the results of
this two-dimensional model were presented as a poster at a conference in Varenna, Italy [Mason
98a]. From discussions with Professor Christopher Barty at this conference, it was realised that
a full three-dimensional model was needed. Work on this (CPTrace3D, see chapter 3) was
started in September 1997, immediately after the conference. In March of 1998, the first results
of this model were realised and just before the CLEO conference in May, the reflective doublet
based stretcher was devised and then presented as a talk [Mason 98b]. During the period of the
writing and results of the three-dimensional model, the components necessary for construction
of the stretcher and compressor were ordered. Some of these components had very long lead-
times. The lab work involved in the upgrade of the laser was conducted between November
1998 and September 1999.
In addition, apart from conducting the work directly involved in this thesis, I was
involved in a number of experiments using the original laser system. These experiments are
described briefly in the next section, along with a more detailed description of two of them. The
chronology of these experiments is as follows. In July 1996, a four-month experiment started
which investigated the production of high charge state, high energy (MeV) ions from the
explosion of atomic clusters in an intense laser field (Cluster Ions, [Ditmire 97a/b]). In
October 1996, there was a two-month experiment to investigate the efficiency of high order
harmonic generation in atomic clusters (Cluster HHG, [Tisch 97]). In December 1996, there
was a short collaboration with Dr D Meyerhofer from the University of Rochester that
investigated the spatio-temporal evolution of high harmonic generation using chirped pulse
spectroscopy (S-T E of HHG, [Tisch 98]). My involvement in these experiments gave a good

Introduction

48
understanding of the experimental requirements of a chirped pulse amplification laser system.
This helped later in the design of many of the components of the upgraded laser system.
During the year gap between involvement in experimental work on the laser, I made
some substantial changes to the laser system. The most major of these was the rebuilding of the
stretcher and compressor to accommodate larger beam sizes, using three large diffraction
gratings on loan from the Laurence Livermore National Laboratory. This was necessary as the
beam was found to be breaking up as it propagated long distances through the air, causing
considerable damage to optics and problems for experiments. The exact specification of the
stretcher and compressor was devised using the two-dimensional ray-tracing model.
The next experiment, which started in January 1998, investigated the interaction of an
intense laser field with carbon-60 molecules (C
60
, [Hay 99]). My final involvement in
experimental work performed during the four years of this PhD, was an investigation of the
interaction of two intense laser fields of different wavelength and temporal delay with atomic
clusters (Two Colour, [Springate 00a]).
1.7. Laser-matter interaction experiments
Although the primary subject of this thesis is the modelling that leads to the design of a
suitable stretcher for the upgraded Blackett Laboratory Laser Consortium chirped pulse
amplification laser system and its implementation, the author has also been involved in a
number of laser-matter interaction experiments. Involvement in these experiments has led to a
better understanding of the laser characteristics required by a laser user (for example, pre-
pulse level and beam quality), as well as producing a number of publications in peer review
journals. A brief summary of the authors experimental involvement is given below. These
experiments were all performed using the Blackett Laboratory Laser Consortium, titanium-
doped sapphire, chirped pulse amplification laser system at intensities between 10
14
and
10
16
Wcm
-2
, a wavelength of 780 nm and pulse durations between 150 and 250 fs. Two of these
experiments are discussed in detail in sections 1.7.2 and 1.7.3.
1.7.1. Experimental summary
The first experiment compared the efficiency of high harmonic generation [Gavrila 92]
when the laser interacted with xenon atoms and xenon atom clusters. The clusters consisted of
several thousand xenon atoms bound by Van-der-Waal forces. The experiment comprised a
harmonic generating pump beam, a cluster dissociation beam, a xenon cluster source and a
vacuum ultraviolet spectrometer to measure the harmonic yield. The pump beam was the

Introduction

49
fundamental of the original titanium-doped sapphire chirped pulse amplification laser system
with a pulse duration of ~150 fs. The cluster dissociation beam was the third harmonic of a
neodymium:YAG laser with a pulse duration of a few nanoseconds. The pump beam was
focused under the cluster source, a pulsed gas jet [Smith 98], and the harmonic intensity was
recorded with and without the cluster dissociation beam present. A mild enhancement of high
harmonic generation efficiency was observed when clusters were present compared to the
efficiency of monatomic xenon [Tisch 97].
The next experiment aimed to investigate the spatio-temporal evolution of high
harmonic generation. This was done by generating harmonics in a similar way to the previous
experiment but using a linearly chirped pulse with a duration of ~1 ps as the pump. The chirped
pulse was generated by changing the separation of the diffraction gratings in the compressor.
The generated harmonics were measured using the same vacuum ultraviolet spectrometer as
before. The chirping of the pulse meant that the instantaneous frequency of the harmonic
generation pulse changed with time, therefore temporal evolution was mapped to harmonic
frequency. The change in harmonic frequency was then mapped to a measurable spatial
displacement by the spectrometer. It was found that early in time, high harmonic generation
occurred on the laser axis. As the intensity of the laser pulse increased the centre of the
interaction region was ionised, quenching the harmonic generation. Harmonic generation
moved into the wings of the beam as the intensity there reached the threshold for high harmonic
generation [Tisch 98]. More details in section 1.7.2.
Next was an experiment to investigate the ion energy spectrum of C
60
in the presence of
a high intensity laser pulse. Previous work had seen that small molecules in an intense laser
field are rapidly ionised and undergo Coulomb explosion. Atomic clusters form a nanoplasma
in the intense field and explode due to a combination of Coulombic and hydrodynamic
pressures. C
60
is intermediate to these two extreme cases and can be regarded as both a large
molecule and a small (sixty atom) cluster. By looking at the ion spectra the experiment aimed
to determine whether this intermediate target behaves like a small molecule or a cluster in an
intense laser field. We found that the observed ion spectra could be well matched using a model
of a simple Coulomb explosion [Hay 99]. Others found that a plasma model was required to
match their results [Constantinescu 98]. We conclude that C
60
is truly intermediate, being both
a large molecule and a small cluster. More details in section 1.7.3.
It had been found previously that when an intense laser pulse interacts with an atomic
cluster larger than a few hundred atoms, there is a resonance in the electron-heating rate when
the electron density reaches a value of three times the critical density (n
crit
is the electron density
at which the plasma becomes optically opaque). The enhanced heating of the electrons in turn
leads to enhanced heating of the ions. The idea of the next experiment carried out was to

Introduction

50
irradiate a cluster with a sequence of two pulses of differing frequency to hit the resonance
twice and further enhance the electron heating. One pulse was the fundamental laser radiation
(780 nm) and the other was the laser second harmonic (390 nm). The critical density is
wavelength dependent and is given by:

( )
2
21
3
2 2
3
] [
10 1 . 1
] [
10
] [
m
cm n
e
m
cm n
crit
e
crit

=
=

; (1.23)
therefore, the lower frequency pulse should be resonant at a lower density. We observed a
factor of two enhancement in the electron temperatures and the order and temporal separation of
the pulses was predicted by our nanoplasma model [Springate 00a].
Many of the experiments performed using the titanium-sapphire system involved the
interaction of short, intense laser pulses with clusters. Our first experiments found that we were
producing very hot (keV) electrons in the clusters [Shao 96]. These high electron energies
should lead to high ion temperatures, and indeed this is what we found. In a paper in Nature in
1997, we reported the production of MeV ion energies from high intensity interactions with
xenon clusters [Ditmire 97a]. Further studies are reported in [Ditmire 97b] and [Ditmire 97c].
A summary of the interactions of short, intense laser pulses with atomic clusters is presented in
[Springate 00b] and [Smith 99]. These experiments include scaling laws for cluster size, cluster
species, laser intensity and laser wavelength.
1.7.2. Measurement of the spatiotemporal evolution of high-
order harmonic radiation using chirped laser pulse
spectroscopy
High-order harmonic generation [LHuillier 92] has been studied for years, as a source
of high brightness, coherent radiation in the extreme ultraviolet. The temporal evolution of the
process is the most difficult aspect to measure as it occurs on the timescale of the laser pulse. In
the experiment presented, the evolution of the production of a high order harmonic radiation
was measured both temporally and spatially for the first time [Tisch 98]. The radiation studied
was the 13
th
harmonic of the 780 nm laser, generated at intensities between 10
13
and 10
14
Wcm
-
2
. In order to perform this measurement, a technique called chirped laser pulse spectroscopy
was used. In this technique, output pulses from a high intensity laser are temporally chirped.
This chirp is imposed onto the harmonic radiation, so that the instantaneous harmonic
wavelength changes with time. High resolution, time-integrated spectral measurements of the
harmonic thus yield the temporal resolution. Pulses were stretched to 1 ps with both positive
and negative linear chirp.

Introduction

51
Production of chirped pulses from a chirped pulse amplification laser system is
straightforward. Pulses can be given positive or negative chirp simply by reducing or increasing
the diffraction grating separation (respectively) in the compressor. Equation 1.20 shows how
the
2
(s
2
), related to the chirp parameter, changes with respect to the grating separation, G. The
two-dimensional ray-tracing model (CPTrace), described in chapter 3, was used to check that
the partially recompressed pulses would not change shape as the compressor grating was
translated. Fluctuations in the regenerative amplifier caused the centre wavelength of the laser
to jitter by approximately 1 nm. The same model was used to check that the shape of the
partially recompressed pulses would not change as the spectrum centre wavelength changed.
The high-order harmonics were generated by focusing the output of the laser with an f-
17 lens through a jet of xenon atoms. The entrance slit of a one metre imaging vacuum-
ultraviolet spectrometer was placed 20 cm behind the jet. The spectrometer was tuned to the
13
th
harmonic of the incident laser radiation (60 nm) and a dual microchannel plate placed at the
spectrometer output. The image on the microchannel plate showed harmonic wavelength in the
plane of dispersion of the spectrometer and harmonic divergence in the orthogonal direction.
Figure 1.15 shows a schematic of the experimental set-up.
f/17
Dual Plate
MCP
Xe Gas Jet
Laser
Focus
Imaging Spectrometer
Resolution 0.05nm
Entrance Slit
5mm
Pulsed
Valve
800 nm
Up to 60 mJ
160 fs 1 ps

Figure 1.15 The 13
th
harmonic studied was dispersed in a high-resolution imaging vacuum-
ultraviolet spectrometer and recorded with a microchannel plate detector (MCP).
The instantaneous frequency as a function of time of a linearly chirped laser pulse can
be written as t t + =
0
) ( , where
0
is the laser centre angular frequency and is the
chirp parameter (
2
2 2
/ 1 / / = = dt d dt d , s
-2
). The value of for a stretched pulse
duration of ~1 ps is 1.2510
25
s
-2
depending on the sign of the chirp. In the limit where time-
dependent frequency shifts of the harmonic radiation ([Wood 91] and [Lewenstein 95]) are
small compared to the harmonic bandwidth, the harmonic frequency can be written as q(t),
where q is the harmonic order. Therefore, the harmonic frequency follows the temporal
evolution of the laser pulse. If the unchirped laser pulse has duration , which has an associated
transform limited bandwidth and the chirped pulse duration (
c
) is much longer than , then
the chirp parameter is given by
c c
/ ) /( 2 = . Therefore, the temporal dispersion at

Introduction

52
the harmonic wavelength is given by dt/d|
/q
= q
c
/, where and are the laser wavelength
and bandwidth respectively. The temporal resolution is given by
res
= q
c

spec
/, where
spec

is the resolution of the spectrometer (valid provided
res
is greater than the transform limit
associated with the spectral resolution). Figure 1.16 shows the image on the microchannel plate
for the case of positive and negative chirped laser pulses. Both images show harmonic
wavelength, or time, along the horizontal axis and harmonic divergence along the vertical axis.
1 ps 1 ps
1 nm

1 nm

Negative Chirp Positive Chirp
2
0
m
r
a
d
D
i
v
e
r
g
e
n
c
e
,

time time

Figure 1.16 The space and time resolved images show that the harmonic beam becomes annular
on a sub-picosecond time-scale. The peak intensity in the Xe jet was 1.310
14
Wcm
-2
.
In both cases, for positively and negatively chirped laser pulses, the image is a crescent.
It can be deduced from these two images that at early time, harmonic generation is along the
laser axis and at later times moves into the wings of the pulse (spatially) creating radiation with
an annular spatial profile. The images of Figure 1.16 show a slice of this annular profile, as
defined by the entrance slit of the spectrometer. The radius of this annular profile increases
with time.
The evolution of harmonic generation depicted here is consistent with modelling of
harmonic emission in the presence of ionisation [Muffett 94, Ditmire 96]. The peak laser
intensity used to produce these two images was 1.310
14
Wcm
-2
, an intensity at which significant
ionisation occurs. Harmonic generation in the gas jet on the leading edge of the laser pulse is
along the laser axis. As the intensity increases, ionisation occurs which quenches harmonic
generation on axis. The intensity around the laser axis is high enough to produce harmonic
radiation and so the spatial profile becomes annular. As the laser intensity increases further,
ionisation quenches emission in this annular region and the harmonic generation zone is pushed
away from the laser axis. Harmonic generation stops when the intensity in the spatial wings of
the laser falls below the threshold for emission this point defines the edge of the crescent.

Introduction

53
Figure 1.17 shows how the spatiotemporal image at the exit of the spectrometer changes
as a function of peak laser intensity (upper four images) for positively chirped laser pulses.
Each image is averaged over ~100 laser shots. The lower four images are numerically
simulated spectrometer outputs using a simple model of harmonic generation that includes the
effects of ionisation of the nonlinear medium (low density gas jet). The first image on the left in
each row represents a peak intensity where ionisation levels are quite low (~10%). In this case,
the harmonic distribution follows the laser distribution as ionisation has little effect. For higher
intensities, ionisation of the nonlinear medium plays an increasing role in the shaping of the
harmonic emission. The experimental results are well matched by numerical simulations, as
shown.
5.3x10
13
W/cm
2
7.3x10
13
W/cm
2
9.6x10
13
W/cm
2
1.3x10
14
W/cm
2
E
x
p
e
r
i
m
e
n
t
M
o
d
e
l
500 fs time
D
i
v
e
r
g
e
n
c
e

Figure 1.17 Comparison of microchannel plate images at different peak laser intensities with
numerical simulations showing that ionisation depletion is the cause of the annular harmonic
beam.
Another important feature of the images shown in Figure 1.17 is the relative arrival of
the harmonic emission compared to the peak of the laser pulse. The peak of the laser pulse
occurs on the far right of each image in Figure 1.17. As the peak intensity of the laser increases,
the radially integrated harmonic signal shows a peak moving earlier in time. Correspondingly,
ionisation occurs increasingly early during the rising edge of the laser pulse. At the lowest
intensity the harmonic duration is 250 fs25%. At the maximum laser intensity, the harmonic
duration is reduced by ~10%, due to ionisation terminating the emission. An interesting feature
emerges when examining the harmonic duration taken from slices of the images of Figure 1.17.
In this case, as the laser intensity increases, the duration of the harmonic emission decreases
substantially. The harmonic emission on axis for the highest laser intensity shows a duration of
~120 fs. This is a factor of two shorter than the radially integrated duration and ~8 times shorter
than the incident laser pulse.

Introduction

54
In conclusion, the time evolution of the harmonic source distribution has been measured
for the first time. This has been enabled by the technique of chirped laser pulse spectroscopy,
which creates spectral images that include the time history of the high harmonic generation with
a resolution of ~100 fs. The results show that as the laser intensity increases, the harmonic
source becomes annular with an increasing radius. The changing source distribution can be
explained by ionisation of the nonlinear medium. The results also show a harmonic emission
duration much shorter than the incident pulse. This could be extended to shorter laser pulses
where, for example, a 20 fs pulse may produce a harmonic duration of ~3 fs, which could be
isolated with appropriate spatial filtering.
1.7.3. Explosion of C
60
irradiated with a high-intensity
femtosecond laser pulse
There have been extensive experimental and theoretical investigations of the ionisation
and dissociation of small molecules in strong laser fields [Codling 93, Sheehy 96]. In recent
years, work on atomic clusters having near solid density, but sub-wavelength dimensions, has
produced a range of unexpected and exciting results [Ditmire 97a]. These include very efficient
coupling of the laser field, multi keV electron production and MeV ion generation. Molecules
and clusters lie between the two extreme cases of single atoms and bulk, solid density targets
that initially dominated research into high intensity laser-matter interactions. They share some
of the characteristics of these extreme cases, but also demonstrate much behaviour that is unique
to them alone.
Coulomb explosion has been shown to be an effective model for describing the
dissociation of small molecules in intense (> 10
14
Wcm
-2
) laser fields [Posrhumus 96]. In this
mechanism, the atoms in the molecule are photoionised and the resulting ions then repel each
other through Coulomb forces. The effect of the photoionised electrons on the dynamics of the
explosion is found to be negligible. Ions with rather low mean kinetic energy typically ~10-100
eV are produced in this way. This contrasts with the highly energetic interaction between large
(~1000 atom) atomic clusters and intense laser fields. The key difference between this and the
Coulomb explosion of small molecules is that here, the photoelectrons are retained in close
proximity to the ions. This interaction can be well described by a plasma model in which
hydrodynamic forces dominate the expansion and electron-ion collisional heating is resonantly
enhanced in the laser field [Ditmire 97b] as the result of a dielectric resonance.
The regime between small molecules and clusters has not been well explored. C
60
was
chosen as a suitable target that might give information on the transition from exclusively
Coulomb explosion behaviour to a regime where plasma effects become dominant. It has a
well-characterised structure and size (unlike the atomic cluster sources typically used for high

Introduction

55
intensity interaction experiments, where a distribution of cluster sizes is present). Modelling of
cluster explosions [Ditmire 98] shows that electron collisional heating can be important even in
small clusters of 55 atoms or less, suggesting that this mechanism may also be present in C
60
. In
the experiment presented, ion kinetic energy spectra produced by fragmentation of C
60
into
single C
n+
ions in high intensity femtosecond laser pulses at 780 nm are studied [Hay 99].
C
60
powder (99.9%, Aldrich) was resistively heated to ~900 K in a small stainless steel
oven contained within a vacuum chamber with a background pressure of ~10
-8
mbar. A 1 mm
diameter nozzle in the oven created an effusive beam of C
60
vapour that was collimated by a
0.5 mm diameter aperture placed 10 mm from the nozzle. The laser was focused into the C
60

beam, 40 mm from the aperture using an f-20 lens. The C
60
density in the interaction volume
was ~110
11
molecules cm
-3
, corresponding to ~1000 molecules within the 1/e
2
iso-intensity
shell of the laser focus.
The ions were analysed using a time of flight spectrometer consisting of extraction and
drift regions and a dual microchannel plate detector (Figure 1.18). An extraction field of
~200 Vcm
-1
orthogonal to both the incident laser and the C
60
beam was used to extract the ions
created in the interaction volume. The ions are accelerated in proportion to their charge to mass
ratio, enabling different ion species to be resolved. After acceleration, the ions pass through a
35 cm long field-free drift region, before striking the microchannel plate.
Drift Region
MCP
Extraction Region
Laser
Focus
C
60
Beam
C
60
Powder
in Oven

Figure 1.18 Schematic of the time-of-flight spectrometer showing the C
60
source, laser focus,
extraction and drift regions and microchannel plate (MCP) detector. The laser propagates out
of the page and is focused into the C
60
beam in the centre of the extraction region.
It was important for this experiment to minimise laser pre-pulse to avoid pre-ionising or
dissociating the target, which would change the nature of the interaction between the target and
the main pulse. Pre-pulses arising from leakage from the regenerative amplifier were reduced
from 10
-4
to < 10
-7
of the main pulse energy by the addition of a Pockels cell/polariser pair
operating as a pulse-slicer. Removal of any pre-pulse is also important when working with
large clusters of atoms. The pre-pulse destroys the cluster before the main laser pulse interacts

Introduction

56
with it (as was intentionally done in an experiment described in section 1.7.1, where a second
laser was used to destroy the cluster medium).
The ionisation and fragmentation of C
60
by 150 fs, linearly polarised, 780 nm laser
pulses over a range of peak focused intensities from 110
13
Wcm
-2
to 510
15
Wcm
-2
was
investigated. It was found that above 510
14
Wcm
-2
the C
60
molecules underwent complete
dissociation into C
n+
ions. In this regime, the C
60
n+
signal was reduced to zero, but some smaller
fragments still survived in detectable quantities in the low intensity wings of the laser focus.
The behaviour of the C
n+
ions will only be discussed here, as it is from this data that information
about the interactions occurring in the highest intensity part of the laser focus can be extracted.
As expected, peaks in the time of flight spectrum corresponding to carbon ions from C
+

to C
4+
appear at successively higher intensities. Figure 1.19 shows time of flight spectra
recorded as the intensity of the laser is increased from 510
14
Wcm
-2
to 510
15
Wcm
-2
using an
extraction field of 185 V.cm
-1
. The C
n+
peaks are broad compared to the sharp O
2+
peaks arising
from background contamination in the chamber. This broadening is due to the ions being
produced with a distribution of kinetic energies. For the peaks to be broadened to the extent
observed, the ions must have initial kinetic energies comparable with the kinetic energy
imparted to them by the extraction field (~400 eV for a 1+ ion).
3 4 5
0
10
20
30
40
50
5x10
15
Wcm
-2
1x10
15
Wcm
-2
5x10
14
Wcm
-2
Flight Time (s)
I
o
n

S
i
g
n
a
l

(
a
r
b
.

u
n
i
t
s
)
C
4+
C
3+
C
2+
O
2+
C
+

Figure 1.19 Spectra recorded at three intensities from 510
14
Wcm
-2
to 510
15
Wcm
-2
with
horizontal polarisation (polarisation vector parallel to detection axis).
By rotating the laser polarisation vector, anisotropies in the ion distribution would
manifest themselves as changes in the ion spectra. At lower intensities, no polarisation
dependence was found. However, at higher intensities a strong anisotropy became apparent.
The spectra in Figure 1.19 were recorded with the laser polarisation vector oriented parallel to
the detection axis (horizontal polarisation). As the intensity was increased, additional structure
appeared in the broadened peaks. This additional structure was never apparent when the laser
polarisation vector was perpendicular to the detection axis (vertical polarisation).

Introduction

57
The anisotropy is illustrated clearly by Figure 1.20 which shows two time of flight
traces taken with the same peak intensity (510
15
Wcm
-2
), but with vertical and horizontal
polarisation. The C
n+
peaks in the vertical polarisation case are smooth. Only their height
increased with peak intensity, their form was unchanged. This contrasts with the additional
structure apparent in the horizontal case. The C
3+
and C
4+
signals are much stronger for
horizontal polarisation. The differences between the two polarisation cases show that some
ions were preferentially ejected along the laser polarisation direction. The C
+
peaks were
identical because these ions were produced in the low intensity regions of the focus
(<510
14
Wcm
-2
).
3 4 5
0
10
20
30
40
50
C
4+
C
3+
C
2+
O
2+
C
+
horizontal
vertical
I
o
n

s
i
g
n
a
l

(
a
r
b
.

u
n
i
t
s
)
Flight time (s)

Figure 1.20 The difference between horizontal polarisation and vertical polarisation
(polarisation vector perpendicular to detection axis) showing the anisotropic distribution of the
C
2+
, C
3+
and C
4+
ions.
Small molecules exhibit Coulomb explosion behaviour when irradiated by an intense
ultrashort laser pulse. Their behaviour can be well reproduced by models that tunnel ionise the
constituent atoms, remove the resulting electrons from the interaction and then propagate the
ions under the influence of the Coulomb potential [Posthumus 96]. A simple numerical model
was developed to investigate this type of behaviour in C
60
.
The initial condition for the model is 60 neutral carbon atoms placed at rest in the
equilibrium positions of the carbon atoms in the C
60
molecule. A 780 nm, 150 fs, linearly
polarised temporally and spatially Gaussian laser pulse is then propagated through the target.
At each time step the atoms are allowed to tunnel ionise in the electric field of the laser. The
ionised electrons are removed from the system and the ions are allowed to move under the
influence of their combined Coulomb potentials and the electric field of the laser.
To compare the modelling with the experiment the code was run over a range of
intensities from the lowest intensity at which ionisation occurred (310
13
Wcm
-2
) to a peak
intensity in the laser focus of 110
16
Wcm
-2
. At each intensity, the model was run many times
with random C
60
orientations and the final ion charge states and energies were accumulated. In

Introduction

58
this way, ion kinetic energy distributions were built up for each ion stage at each intensity.
Even at the highest intensities, the explosion was isotropic, as expected from Coulomb
explosion of a spherically symmetric molecule. A numerical model of ion trajectories through
the time of flight spectrometer was used to recreate experimental spectra. Figure 1.21 shows the
results of the numerical modelling compared with experimental data. The general form of the
experimental spectrum is reproduced very well. The correct charge states are present and the
ion energies and abundances are in reasonable agreement.
Our model demonstrates that Coulomb explosion provides a good description of the C
60

dissociation dynamics and kinetic energy distribution over an intensity range of
10
14
-10
15
Wcm
-2
. This is in contrast to the model invoked by Wlker et al [Wlker 94]. The
possibility of electron-ion collisional heating has not been ruled out, but there is no strong
resonant enhancement as in the case of clusters. The observed heating is adequately described
by the Coulomb explosion model and C
5+
was not observed.
3 4 5
0
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
C
3+
C
2+
C
+
experiment
simulation
I
o
n

s
i
g
n
a
l

(
a
r
b
.

u
n
i
t
s
)
Flight time (s)

Figure 1.21 Comparison of experimental and simulated time of flight spectra using 150 fs, 780
nm, vertically polarised pulses.
In conclusion, the dissociation of C
60
in a linearly polarised, 780 nm, 150 fs laser pulse
is consistent with Coulomb explosion for laser intensities between 110
14
Wcm
-2
and
110
15
Wcm
-2
. This contrasts with the case of large atomic clusters where ion heating is
dramatically increased by resonantly enhanced electron-ion collisions. The observed kinetic
energy distribution of C
n+
ions (n 4) is isotropic about the laser propagation direction. Above
110
15
Wcm
-2
the distribution becomes anisotropic. A simple Coulomb explosion model
including tunnelling ionisation and Coulomb repulsion between ions, but neglecting the effect
of the photoionised electrons gives good qualitative agreement with the experimental results up
to 110
15
Wcm
-2
. There is no evidence of significant extra heating of the dissociating molecule
by resonantly enhanced electron-ion collisions.
2. Design considerations for high
power, short pulse laser
systems
In this chapter, the design considerations for a titanium-doped sapphire, chirped pulse
amplification laser system are described. The points mentioned are specific to the Blackett
Laboratory Laser Consortium system before and after it was upgraded the primary subject of
this thesis. They are also relevant to similar chirped pulse amplification systems based on
titanium-doped sapphire. Firstly, the desired pulse characteristics from the point of view of an
experimenter wishing to use this kind of laser are considered. The main problems are
highlighted here along with some examples of possible solutions. The implementation of
solutions specific to the upgraded system at the Blackett Laboratory are presented in chapter 4.
Secondly, problems specific to ultra-short pulses, high powers and high intensities are
considered. These include the effects of optical bandwidth, group-velocity dispersion and the
nonlinear response of optical materials. This chapter will highlight the difficulties and
compromises involved in chirped pulse amplification laser design.
2.1. Considerations for high intensity
laser-matter interaction experiments
2.1.1. Pulse contrast
As the peak intensity available from chirped pulse amplification lasers increases, so
does the pulse contrast requirements for many high intensity experiments. For example, a
focused intensity of 10
18
Wcm
-2
demands a contrast ratio of about eight orders of magnitude to
prevent the preformation of plasma on a solid target, before the arrival of the main pulse. The
formation of a pre-plasma changes the way energy is deposited in the target and so can
adversely affect solid target experiments. Here contrast is defined as the ratio of the peak
intensity, at the centre of the pulse in time, to that of the most intense pre- or post-pulse. These
extra pulses can be separated into two main groups. The first arise from multiple reflections in
parallel-faced optical components or from cavity leakage, particularly from regenerative
amplifiers. The timescale for arrival of these pulses relative to the main laser pulse is of the

Design considerations for high power, short pulse laser systems

60
order of twice the transit time of the optical component or multiples of the cavity round-trip
time (tens of picoseconds to tens of nanoseconds). Many of the picosecond pulses may be
avoided by careful choice of optics, for example having a small wedge angle between the
surfaces of thin optics or frosting the back surfaces of mirrors. The nanosecond pulses may be
quite easily removed with the use of optical switches (e.g. Pockels cells) which can operate with
rise-times on the order of a few nanoseconds. The second source of extra pulses is from
incomplete recompression of the amplified, stretched pulse, which are separated from the main
pulse by tens to hundreds of femtoseconds. These arise from mismatches between the stretcher
and compressor. The compressor is comprised of just two parallel diffraction gratings the
stretcher has two anti-parallel diffraction gratings separated by a unit magnification telescope.
Aberrations in this telescope contribute towards mismatches between the stretcher and
compressor; they therefore need to be carefully designed to keep aberrations to a minimum.
Section 3 describes a model that has been developed as an aid to this design process which is a
particularly important (and complex) problem for sub-100 fs pulses. Figure 2.1 shows the
relation of these extra pulses with respect to the main laser pulse (vertical scales greatly
exaggerated).
Time (femtosecond scale)
I
n
t
e
n
s
i
t
y

(
a
r
b
i
t
r
a
r
y

u
n
i
t
s
)
Pre-pulses
Post-pulses
Pulse shoulder
(b)
Time (nanosecond scale)
I
n
t
e
n
s
i
t
y

(
a
r
b
i
t
r
a
r
y

u
n
i
t
s
)
Main pulse Main pulse
Pre-pulse
Post-pulses
Pedestal
(a)

Figure 2.1 Pulse profiles. (a) Short timescale profile showing pulse shoulder and pre-/post-
pulses due to incomplete recompression. (b) Longer timescale profile showing pulse pedestal
and pre-/post-pulses from sources within the amplifier chain.
2.1.2. Pedestal
Another form of pre/post-pulse that can be detrimental experimentally is pedestal (see
Figure 2.1(b)). This is a background level of light that can last for many times the pulse
duration, and can occur before and after the main pulse. It arises from amplified spontaneous
emission in the amplifiers and/or from incomplete recompression in the form of a pulse
shoulder (see Figure 2.1(a)). Spontaneous emission generally does not have the same
properties as the main laser beam; it is not very well collimated and propagates forwards and
backwards through the gain medium. It can however be a problem when it does travel in the

Design considerations for high power, short pulse laser systems

61
same direction as the main laser beam and is amplified by subsequent gain stages. It can be
controlled, to a certain extent, by correct timing of the pump and seed pulses arriving in the
amplifier gain media and correct timing of Pockels cells.
Pedestal may also be suppressed on the leading side of the pulse by the use of a
saturable absorber [Siegman 86]. This absorbs low intensity light (below about 10
10
Wcm
-2
) but
the absorption is bleached at high intensities allowing the main pulse to propagate. If the
saturable absorber were used before the compressor (where peak intensities are low), the pulse
would be chirped, therefore its spectrum would be narrowed and the centre wavelength shifted.
This occurs because the leading edge of the chirped pulse has a low intensity, and is therefore
preferentially depleted by the saturable absorber [Diels 96]. Placing it after the compressor
where the pulse is no longer chirped would avoid these effects, but the intensities are higher so
nonlinear propagation effects can degrade the pulse. High intensities in the absorber may also
lead to continuum generation and frequency doubling of the recompressed beam, both of which
can cause problems experimentally. Saturable absorbers are generally used as a last resort as,
besides the problems associated with high intensity and/or chirped pulses, they are inconvenient
to handle and typically toxic.
2.1.3. Pulse energy fluctuations
Broadly speaking, there are two classes of interaction experiment when concerned with
pulse energy. The first requires constant pulse energy, in order to build up a data set at a fixed
intensity. The second requires a range of energies, to show experimentally how a process
changes as a function of intensity (an intensity scan). Chirped pulse amplification lasers are
inherently unstable, producing pulses that vary in energy on a shot-to-shot basis. In all of the
amplification stages, the gain medium is pumped by one or more frequency doubled YAG
lasers. The pulses from these lasers suffer shot-to-shot energy fluctuations. These fluctuations
affect the amount of gain available per pass in the gain medium and so the final output energy of
an amplifier is unstable. One way around this is to make sure the gain is saturated, particularly
in the highest gain stages. Most titanium-doped sapphire amplifiers are used in a multi-pass
regime and so saturation is achieved by increasing the number of passes of the gain medium
until the available gain is fully depleted. Forcing the gain to saturate leads to increased output
energy stability by making sure all the available energy from the pump laser is utilised even
though the gain available per pass changes. Gain saturation can, however, have an adverse
effect on the pulse spectrum and consequently recompressed pulse duration as mentioned in
section 2.1.6.
In some situations energy fluctuations can be useful for intensity scans, so that a smooth
data set is produced rather than having a series of observations at discrete intensities. On the

Design considerations for high power, short pulse laser systems

62
other hand, experiments that need a fixed intensity require energy binning, where only laser
pulses with an energy in a narrow range are accepted. This increases the time required to take a
good data set.
Another issue associated with pulse energy is dynamic range. Often intensity scan
experiments require a dynamic range of up to ten orders of magnitude. The energy of the laser
is usually controlled using a /2 waveplate - polariser combination. These optics are expensive
and so need to be placed near the beginning of the laser system where beam sizes are small. On
the other hand, they do not provide exceptionally large dynamic range (10
2
:1-10
3
:1 at best), and
placing them before six or more orders of magnitude of amplification reduces this range. They
must, therefore be placed far enough through the amplifier chain to provide a reasonable
dynamic range without being too large. One way of increasing the available dynamic range
would be to use waveplate-polariser pairs in series.
Pulse energy cannot easily be controlled by changing the pump laser energy. This is
especially the case when the pump energy is high (above ~300 mJ) where thermal effects
become important. Large pump fluences cause the crystal temperature to rise in the centre of
the pump beam leading to a refractive index increase (dn/dT 1.310
-5
K
-1
for titanium-doped
sapphire). Cooling by conduction at the edge of the crystal creates a temperature gradient and
hence a positive thermal lens whose strength is proportional to the pump fluence. This can be
compensated for by making the seed beam slightly diverging so that the thermal lens
recollimates it. If the pulse energy was changed by varying the pump energy, the strength of the
thermal lens would change, therefore the divergence of the seed would have to be altered
accordingly - this would be impractical if the system is to remain well optimised for best beam
profile and recompressed temporal profile.
2.1.4. Beam focusability
In order to achieve as high an intensity as possible, the beam must be able to be focused
to as close to the diffraction limit as possible. The final beam from the system described in this
thesis is designed to have a Gaussian spatial profile and a flat phase front. To achieve efficient
energy extraction in the amplifiers, a flat-top spatial profile would be better because the gain
media are pumped with flat-top YAG beams. These do not propagate well over long distances
unaided however, due to the high spatial frequency components associated with the step in
intensity at the edge of the beam. As a beam with a Gaussian spatial profile propagates over
long distances (several metres), the shape remains unchanged even if the waist size has
increased due to diffraction. For the same reasons, a Gaussian beam will focus to a Gaussian
spot, whilst a flat-top beam will focus to a spot with a sinc function profile. The profile of both
the focal spot and the beam in the far field is given by the Fourier transform of the initial beam

Design considerations for high power, short pulse laser systems

63
profile. For these reasons Gaussian spatial profile beams are convenient to use in small to
medium scale chirped pulse amplification lasers based on titanium doped sapphire.
Modifications to the Gaussian spatial profile can arise from several components in the
laser system. When the beam passes through or reflects off an optic with an aperture smaller
than its diameter, it will be clipped. This clipping can be hard, from undersized optics, or soft,
for example from the limited size of gain volumes in gain media. Both cause the formation of
diffraction fringes across the beam that change as it propagates through the laser system.
Modifications may also arise from damaged optics affecting the beam at any point across its
profile, usually causing diffraction rings. Diffraction fringes across the beam lead to a reduction
in focused intensity as energy is transferred away from the centre of the beam focus and can
also seed nonlinear self-focusing.
Phase front modifications can arise from many sources including misaligned or
aberrated optics, thermal lensing in gain media, nonlinear response of optical materials and air
currents. The effect of the nonlinear response of optical components is dealt with fully in
section 2.2.3 and the effect of air currents is described in section 2.1.5. Individual aberrated
optics may occur in any part of the laser system, for example a mirror with a low surface figure
or one clamped too hard so that the surface bends. This can be avoided by proper specification
of optics and careful mounting arrangements. At many points through the laser system, the size
of the beam is changed with the use of a Galilean telescope. If one of the telescope lenses is
slightly tilted, the beam will be rendered astigmatic, reducing the ability to focus it tightly. This
can be avoided by careful alignment of the lenses, control of the beam pointing through the
telescope and correct orientation of the lenses. As mentioned in section 2.1.3 high pump beam
fluences lead to thermal lensing in the gain media. A beam passing through the crystal parallel
the to the pump beam will just be slightly focused, but a beam passing through at an angle will
be both focused and become astigmatic. There is some room for compensation here as the
astigmatism added by gain media can be partially compensated for by tilting the lenses of
Galilean telescopes. This would make the beam anastigmatic. However, this is not an ideal
solution as the tilted lens adds small amounts of other aberrations such as coma. A better
solution is to make sure that the number of passes through the crystal is even and the passes are
arranged symmetrically. In this case, the aberrations will cancel.
2.1.5. Beam pointing stability
The beam, as it passes through the chirped pulse amplification laser system, has a total
path length of several tens of metres. If an optic is tilted by only a small amount near the front
end of the laser, the beam will move by a large amount at the output. If a beam pointing
instability manifests itself as a change in angle, the beam focus will move from side to side.

Design considerations for high power, short pulse laser systems

64
This is detrimental to experiments as it can mean the beam moves by multiples of the beam
waist diameter, missing its intended target. If it occurs as a translation from side to side, with
the beam still perpendicular to the face of the focusing optic, then it will still be focused to the
same point. Whilst this may mean the beam is slightly aberrated, the focused intensity will not
change appreciably (as long as the f-number is large and the target is short compared with the
focal volume).
Air currents in the spaces between optics can cause the beam to move as it propagates.
Pockets of air with different temperatures, and therefore slightly different refractive indices,
move through the path of the beam due to air conditioners and the movement of people in the
laboratory. The effect of this is to steer the beam as the air flows and as the beam propagates
over long distances through the laser system. The easiest way of reducing these effects is to
enclose the beams in both pipes and boxes to limit the flow of air across the beam.
2.1.6. Pulse duration fluctuations
Shot-to-shot pulse duration fluctuations can arise from a number of different sources.
As mentioned in section 2.1.3, saturating the gain in the amplifiers can be useful for stabilising
output energy fluctuations, but can also be detrimental to the pulse duration. Gain saturation
leads to a reduction of the pulse bandwidth, which translates, into an increase in the
recompressed pulse duration (see section 2.2.1.4). Fluctuations in the amplifier pump pulse
energy causes instability in the degree of saturation of the gain. The exact dynamics depend on
the mean pump pulse energy. If the gain is just saturated when the pump pulse energy has its
mean value, then the seed pulse bandwidth will be reduced by a certain amount. If the pump
pulse energy is higher than the mean, the gain will saturate earlier, reducing the seed pulse
bandwidth further. If the pump pulse energy is lower than the mean, the gain is unsaturated so
the seed pulse bandwidth will not be affected (except by the ever present gain narrowing and
shifting see section 2.2.1.4). This will lead to shot-to-shot variations of the pulse bandwidth
and therefore the recompressed pulse duration.
Another source of pulse duration fluctuation arises from beam pointing instability in the
compressor. The compressor is very sensitive to alignment, as the phase it adds must exactly
oppose that added by the stretcher. Changing the angle of the input beam in the compressor is
equivalent to misaligning it. This can produce a pulse that is abnormally long, is chirped, has
short timescale pre- or post-pulses, or a combination of all three. A pure transverse translation
of the beam will not affect the pulse integrity as long as the compressor optics are large enough
so as not to clip the edges of the beam. Clipping would reduce the bandwidth of the pulse as
well as creating spatial structure in the beam due to diffraction.

Design considerations for high power, short pulse laser systems

65
On a day-to-day basis, the laser must be sufficiently easy to align so that the stretcher
and compressor are set up optimally every time they are used. This is achieved with the use of
alignment irises, crosshairs and a variety of pulse and beam diagnostics. Irises and crosshairs
are used in order that the beam travels along the same optical path through alignment sensitive
optical components. Diagnostics include an autocorrelator that measures the pulse duration and
a far-field monitor that monitors the beam aberrations (section 1.2.2).
2.2. Optical component considerations
2.2.1. Optical bandwidth
Ultra-short optical pulses have a large associated bandwidth, for example, a 30 fs sech
2

pulse has a transform limited bandwidth of ~23 nm. To put this in perspective, a 5 ns pulse
from a frequency doubled YAG laser will have an associated transform limited bandwidth of
~810
-5
nm. The transform limited, full width half maximum bandwidth is calculated using an
equation derived from the time-bandwidth product, for a sech
2
pulse t = 0.315, and the
derivative of the relation between optical wavelength and optical frequency, = c/, and is
given by

t c
=
2
315 . 0
(2.1)
where is the laser central frequency in Hertz, is the laser central wavelength in nanometres,
c is the speed of light in metres per second and t is the full width half maximum pulse duration
in seconds. The constant may be replaced in expressions for bandwidth and time-bandwidth
product by 0.441 for pulses with Gaussian temporal profile. In order for the recompressed pulse
duration from a chirped pulse amplification laser system to be the same as the input duration,
this large bandwidth must be preserved throughout the system. Many components of the laser
system have some wavelength dependent characteristic associated with them. Each of these
components has the ability to modify the pulse spectrum in some generally detrimental way.
2.2.1.1. Thin film coatings
Reflective optics generally have a dielectric thin film coating to produce a high
reflection coefficient. Coatings are designed to work at a specific central wavelength and the
bandwidth changes depending on the polarisation used. For example, a 45 S-polarisation
mirror with central wavelength of 800 nm has a bandwidth of ~150 nm, whereas a
45 P-polarisation mirror has a bandwidth of ~110 nm [CVI]. If the profile of this bandwidth

Design considerations for high power, short pulse laser systems

66
had a top-hat shape, the P-polarisation mirror would be able to support sech
2
pulses with a
duration of 12 fs. In reality the mirror bandwidth has more of a super-Gaussian profile so when
several tens of mirrors are used, bandwidth narrowing occurs reducing the bandwidth to, for
example ~44 nm (equivalent to 31 fs pulses) calculated assuming forty reflections.
One solution to the limited bandwidth of dielectric mirrors is to use metal mirrors.
Aluminium coated mirrors offer a modest reflectivity at a large range of wavelengths -
reflectivity greater than 85 % between 400 nm and 10 m [CVI]. Silver mirrors offer a higher
reflectivity than aluminium, but only for wavelengths greater than about 450 nm reflectivity
greater than 90 % between 450 nm and 10 m. Gold mirrors offer the best performance for
wavelengths longer than the near infra-red reflectivity greater than 96 % between 750 nm and
10 m. An advantage of using metal mirrors rather than dielectric mirrors is they are less
sensitive to incidence angle and polarisation. A major disadvantage, especially in a high power
laser system, is their low damage threshold. Dielectric mirrors can have damage thresholds in
excess of 40 Jcm
-2
(measured for an 8 ns pulse at 1064 nm [CVI]), whereas a metal coating will
only tolerate a fluence of between 10 and 100 times less than this before damage occurs.
Another type of dielectric coating used throughout the laser system is the antireflection
coating. These can be found in places such as normal-incidence crystal faces, windows, Pockels
cell environment protection windows and the rear surfaces of thin film polarisers. For the latter
three cases, the coatings are standard (off-the-shelf) and offer almost constant, low reflectivity
over a range from 670-1064 nm (reflectivity less than 0.5 % average [CVI]). These impose
little or no bandwidth degradation to the pulse. Amplifier crystals however, have to be dual-
wavelength antireflection coated as they are pumped at one wavelength and amplify at another.
The compromise of trying to have low reflectivity at two different wavelengths sometimes
means the bandwidth at the seed wavelength suffers (depending on the coating manufacturer).
2.2.1.2. Polarisers and waveplates
One example of the use of polarisers and /2 waveplates is to control laser energy, see
section 2.1.3. As the waveplate is rotated, the polarisation of a linearly polarised input beam is
also rotated. This is followed by a polariser with its axis orientation fixed with respect to the
input beam polarisation. Maximum energy is transmitted when the beam polarisation is in line
with the polariser axis and minimum when they are crossed (perpendicular).
Zero order waveplates are used whenever possible for this application because of the
increased bandwidth they offer over multiple order waveplates. Multiple order waveplates work
by having a thickness of birefringent material (for example crystal quartz) that is an integer
multiple of 2 phase shifts plus a fractional shift ( or ). This makes them less expensive but
they only have a very limited bandwidth, as a given thickness of birefringent material is a

Design considerations for high power, short pulse laser systems

67
waveplate at many different wavelengths. Zero order waveplates, on the other hand, work by
having two plates of birefringent material whose thickness differ by an amount equivalent to the
required phase shift. The two plates are then aligned with the slow axis of one plate against the
fast axis of the other. A zero order waveplate used between parallel polarisers offers extinction
better than 100:1 over a bandwidth of 95 nm centred at 800 nm [CVI].
Two types of polariser are used in the laser system: cube polarisers and thin film
polarisers. Cube polarisers offer large extinction ratios of the order of 10
4
:1, but the bandwidth
is limited and the optic is thick (optic depth is of the order of its clear aperture). They are useful
in places where a large extinction ratio is required and where the optic is passed only a few
times, so as not to stretch the pulse (due to group-velocity dispersion, see section 2.2.2). In the
regenerative amplifier (see section 1.4.2) however, two polarisers are used and are passed many
times and so the bandwidth and thickness is of critical importance. For this application, thin
film polarisers are used as they offer bandwidths that can support sub-50 fs pulses, even after
many tens of passes. These optics are also thin, so the temporal stretching due to group-velocity
dispersion is considerably less than for cube polarisers. The drawback of these large bandwidth
optics is that the extinction ratio can be as low as 5:1. In the regenerative amplifier, there is a
lot of gain available, so the losses from many passes of low efficiency polarisers can be
compensated for [Newport 00]. A problem does arise however, when trying to remove the
leakage pulses from the polarisers. These pulses can be at the millijoule level in the final few
passes of the regenerative amplifier and propagate in the same direction as the output beam and
in the opposite direction to the input beam, back towards the oscillator. This is where cube
polarisers in combination with either a Pockels cell or waveplate become most useful (see
section 5.3.1.4).
2.2.1.3. Bandwidth clipping
The stretcher and compressor are the only components in the laser system where the
limited size of the optics can cause spectral clipping. This occurs because the beam is spectrally
dispersed on more than one of the component surfaces.
(a) (b)

Figure 2.2 Distribution of beams of different wavelength in the compressor, (a) for small
diameter input beams and (b) for large diameter input beams
Taking the compressor as an example, when an input beam with a small diameter is
incident on the first grating, each ray of different wavelength hits the second grating in a

Design considerations for high power, short pulse laser systems

68
discrete position (Figure 2.2a). If clipping occurs due to the finite size of, for example, the
second grating, the pulse spectrum will have a sharp cut-off between wavelengths that hit the
optic and wavelengths that miss (Figure 2.3, frame 5). This is known as hard clipping. When
an input beam with a large diameter is incident on the first grating, each point across the beam is
dispersed in the same way as the case for small beams (Figure 2.2b). Rays diffracted from the
bottom of the beam will lose longer wavelengths due to clipping. Rays from the centre of the
beam will not be clipped and rays from the top of the beam will lose shorter wavelengths. This
is known as soft clipping as there is a gentle cut-off of wavelengths. The function of
wavelengths passed by the stretcher and compressor can be calculated from the convolution of
beam profile and the window of wavelengths that would be passed if the beam were infinitely
small (Figure 2.3, frames 1, 2 and 3).
The difference between hard and soft clipping is of critical importance in the
recompressed pulse. Hard spectral clipping produces sharp features in frequency space, which
translate into ringing in the recompressed pulse in the same way that a hard aperture will
produce diffraction fringes across a beam in the far field (Figure 2.3, frames 5 and 6, small
beam). Soft spectral clipping is similar to imposing an apodising aperture on a beam with a flat-
top profile. The aperture acts to remove the high spatial frequencies around the edge of the
beam, smoothing the profile in the far field. Soft spectral clipping removes any high-frequency
structure in the pulse spectrum profile, smoothing the recompressed pulse profile (Figure 2.3,
frames 5 and 6, large beam). See [Trentelman 97] for a discussion of bandwidth clipping
applied to pulse compressors.
Spatial
Beam Profile
Spectral
Bandpass
Modified
Bandpass
L
a
r
g
e

B
e
a
m




S
m
a
l
l

B
e
a
m
x
Modified
Pulse Spectrum

FT
FT
Recompressed
Pulse Profile
t
Pulse
Spectrum


Figure 2.3 Soft and hard spectral clipping for the case of large and small beam diameters,
respectively. Spectral bandpass profiles represent wavelengths transmittable by the stretcher
and compressor. FT represents Fourier transform and represents mathematical convolution.
Care must be taken with the choice of diffraction grating in terms of the specification of
ruling density and incidence angle. Diffraction efficiency is a difficult to predict function of
wavelength and, in certain circumstances, discontinuities can occur in the efficiency curve due,
amongst other things, to Woods anomalies [Mansuripur 99].

Design considerations for high power, short pulse laser systems

69
2.2.1.4. Gain narrowing and gain shifting
Titanium doped sapphire is a popular choice of amplifier due to, amongst other things,
its large gain bandwidth. It has been reported to support pulses as short as 5 fs [Baltuska 97].
The profile of the gain of this material is approximately Gaussian and centred around 780 nm
[Silfvast 96]. When a pulse with a Gaussian spectral profile is amplified many times, gain
narrowing occurs due to a lack of gain in the wings of the pulse spectrum [Le Blanc 96]. When
gain media are used in a multi-pass regime, the effective supportable bandwidth reduces with
increasing numbers of round trips, according to the following relation:
( ) ( ) ( )
) ( trips round
gain effective
g g

= (2.2)
where, g()
effective
is the effective supportable gain profile, g()
gain
is the gain profile of the gain
medium and (round-trips) is the number of passes of the gain medium. The single pass gain
bandwidth of titanium sapphire is ~140 nm, however after 36 passes for example (as in a
regenerative amplifier), this is reduced to ~23 nm (equivalent to sech
2
pulse of 29 fs). If the
centre wavelength of a seed pulse spectral profile coincides with the centre of the gain spectral
profile, the centre wavelength of the amplified pulse will be unchanged. If however, the centre
of the gain spectral profile is at a shorter wavelength than that of the seed pulse, shorter
wavelengths will be preferentially amplified. The result is a shift of the centre of the seed pulse
spectral profile towards shorter wavelengths. This is known as gain shifting and can produce an
effect on the order of several nanometres over a gain of around 10
6
[Le Blanc 96].
Another form of spectral shifting occurs when an amplifiers gain is saturated (see
section 2.1.6). In chirped pulse amplification the seed pulse is chirped, so if the gain is
saturated before it has propagated fully through the crystal, the leading edge will be
preferentially amplified. Pulse stretchers normally chirp the pulse such that the longer
wavelengths arrive first, so the peak of the pulse spectrum is shifted toward the shorter
wavelengths. This can be used to balance the effect of gain shifting. Due to the reduction in
amplitude of the trailing edge of the chirped pulse, the pulse bandwidth is also reduced,
increasing the recompressed pulse duration that can be obtained.

Design considerations for high power, short pulse laser systems

70
2.2.2. Dispersion
2.2.2.1. Group-velocity dispersion
Group-velocity dispersion is defined as the rate of change of group-velocity with
wavelength:

2
2
2
2
2 2
2

d
d
d
k d
c d
d
GVD
g g
= = = (2.3)
where
g
= d/dk is the group velocity (ms
-1
), is the laser wavelength (m), is the laser
frequency (radians s
-1
), c is the speed of light (ms
-1
) and k = n()/c is the propagation constant
(m
-1
). It describes how, because an optical material has a different refractive index at different
wavelengths, a pulse comprising many wavelengths will be temporally stretched. In a material
exhibiting normal dispersion, higher frequencies travel more slowly (refractive index, n ~
-1
),
giving a positive chirp. This is particularly important when considering ultra-short pulses, i.e.
sub 50 fs, because of the very large associated bandwidths. For example, a 30 fs sech
2
pulse has
an associated transform limited bandwidth of 22.4 nm. All optical components in the laser
system that the pulse travels through will stretch the pulse by a certain amount, some more than
others. For example, 1 cm of BK7 optical glass will stretch a 30 fs pulse by 26.1 fs to 56.1 fs
(calculated for a sech
2
pulse at 800 nm). Comparatively, 1 cm of SF8 (a high dispersion glass
often used in prisms) would stretch the same pulse to 111.9 fs.
Figure 2.4 shows, as a function of input pulse duration, how much a pulse will be
stretched as it propagates through 1 cm of BK7 glass (calculated using the chirped pulse
amplification model described in chapter 3). As the pulse duration is reduced, the associated
bandwidth rapidly increases (blue curve). The amount a particular optical medium stretches the
pulse by is proportional to the pulse bandwidth; therefore, the fractional increase in duration
grows as the pulse gets shorter. It can be seen from this graph that the shorter the pulse required
from the system, the more care needs to be taken to control the amount of dispersion picked up
in the amplifier chain and on the way to the target. It also shows that as the input pulse duration
increases, the output duration asymptotically approaches the
out
=
in
line. Therefore, longer
pulses are not stretched so much and less care needs to be taken to control material dispersion
through the laser system.
Other optical materials used in the laser system described in this thesis include titanium
doped sapphire and KD*P (Potassium Di-Hydrogen (Deuterated) Phosphate) used in Pockels
cells. Both of these materials behave in much the same way as most standard glasses, as far as
dispersion is concerned. Group-velocity dispersion contributions from KD*P are especially low

Design considerations for high power, short pulse laser systems

71
which is advantageous given the large number of passes of the Pockels cell inside a regenerative
amplifier cavity. For example, a 30 fs sech
2
pulse, after propagating 1 cm, will be stretched to
46.9 fs in KD*P (ordinary ray) and 64.4 fs in sapphire (ordinary ray) compared to 56.1 fs in
BK7. Calculations for KD*P and sapphire shown for ordinary ray as both crystals are
birefringent stretching for extraordinary ray would be 52.7 fs and 63.5 fs respectively (all
values calculated using the model described in chapter 3).
30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100
30
40
50
60
70
80
90
100

out
=
in
O
u
t
p
u
t

P
u
l
s
e

D
u
r
a
t
i
o
n

(
f
s
)
Input Pulse Duration (fs)
6
8
10
12
14
16
18
20
22
P
u
l
s
e

B
a
n
d
w
i
d
t
h

(
n
m
)

Figure 2.4 Sech
2
pulse bandwidth (blue curve) and temporal broadening (red curve) due to 1
centimetre of BK7 glass, as a function of input pulse duration. Calculated using chirped pulse
amplification model described in chapter 3.
This linear dispersion can be compensated, to a certain extent, by controlling the
separation between the diffraction gratings of the compressor. See section 5.4 for a discussion
of phase contributions from the compressor as the configuration is changed.
2.2.2.2. High order dispersion
In a linear system, the phase added by an optical material is given by
() = -n()
0
L/c, where n() is the wavelength dependent refractive index of the material,
0

is the laser centre frequency (radians s
-1
) and L is the propagation length (m). The accumulated
phase through a laser system may be Taylor expanded about the centre laser frequency as
follows:
( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) K + + + + =
3
0 3
3
2
0 2
2
0 0
6
1
2
1


d
d
d
d
d
d
(2.4)

Design considerations for high power, short pulse laser systems

72
The first term in the expansion, (
0
), represents the static accumulated phase at the centre
wavelength. The next term represents the linear phase component or the total group delay
through the system. The double differential of phase with respect to angular frequency
represents the quadratic phase or linear chirp. The next term represents second order chirp or
third order phase. Higher order components become increasingly more important the shorter the
pulse and hence the larger the pulse bandwidth.
As described in section 2.2.2.1, most optical materials in the laser system add linear
chirp to the pulse as it propagates through them. The blue curve of Figure 2.5, refractive index
as a function of wavelength, is typical of most optical media. Calculating the phase expansion
of this material using equation 2.4 would give strong zero, first and second order components
and little higher order contributions. This corresponds to the addition of linear chirp and a small
amount of higher order terms. Linear chirp can be compensated for in the compressor as
changing the separation of the gratings changes the amount of linear chirp added (see sections
1.3 and 5.4). Other optical materials can add higher order phase terms that cannot be
compensated for in the compressor in such a simple way. These should be avoided wherever
possible - however, if they cannot, they may be compensated for by stretcher alignment
([Sullivan 95], [White 93]).







500 600 700 800 900 1000 1100
1.950
1.955
1.960
1.965
1.970
1.975
1.980
1.985
1.990







R
e
f
r
a
c
t
i
v
e

I
n
d
e
x

o
f

T
G
G
Wavelength (nanometres)
1.508
1.510
1.513
1.515
1.517
1.520
1.522
R
e
f
r
a
c
t
i
v
e

I
n
d
e
x

o
f

B
K
7

Figure 2.5 Comparison between the variation of refractive index with wavelength for BK7 and
TGG.
An example of a medium that adds high order phase is the crystal used inside a Faraday
isolator, known as TGG (Terbium Gallium Garnet). TGG is a Faraday rotator material that,

Design considerations for high power, short pulse laser systems

73
when a static magnetic field is applied, rotates the polarisation of an incident beam in the same
sense, independent of the direction of propagation (forwards and backwards). Figure 2.5 shows
the comparison between the variation of refractive index with wavelength for BK7 and TGG
[Halbo Optics]. As can be seen, the high order phase contributions from TGG will be
significantly larger than those from BK7 (calculation of phase using equation 2.4 would give a
strong third order component, i.e. second order chirp).
2.2.3. Nonlinearities
2.2.3.1. Self-focusing
In the technique of chirped pulse amplification, short pulses are temporally stretched to
avoid damage to the laser system through self-focusing during amplification. Nevertheless,
high intensities are unavoidable in lasers of this type and lead to nonlinear responses from
practically all optical media. The optical Kerr effect describes how the refractive index of an
optical material changes with the intensity of incident radiation, as follows:
I n n n
2 0
+ = (2.5)
where n
0
is the standard (linear) refractive index, n
2
is the nonlinear refractive index (m
2
W
-1
)
and I is intensity (Wm
-2
). Titanium-doped sapphire for example, has a value of n
2
=
3.1 10
-16
cm
2
W
-1
[Nikogosyan 97] to increase the refractive index by 0.01% requires an
intensity of 5.5 10
11
Wcm
-2
. In a beam with a uniform Gaussian spatial intensity profile, the
refractive index change is strongest in the centre, which can produce a lens through the effect of
nonlinear refractive index. Similarly, in an otherwise uniform beam, regions of high intensity or
hot spots lead to lenslets. In the oscillator, this effect is used to our advantage to discriminate
between high and low intensity beams by careful arrangement of the optical cavity, resulting in
a strong mode-locking mechanism (see section 1.2.1.2). In the amplifier chain, the same effect
can lead to self-focusing, self-phase modulation and beam break-up.
In most materials, the value of n
2
is positive; therefore, a nonlinear lens created due to a
beam being more intense in the centre than around the edges will be positive. This, initially
weak, lens focuses the beam making it more intense and therefore making the induced lens
stronger. This process can run away catastrophically until the damage threshold of the optical
medium is reached and damage occurs. A critical peak power at which self-focusing becomes a
problem can be derived from the point at which beam focusing due to nonlinear effects
outweigh the effect of divergence due to diffraction. The critical power is given by [Diels 96]

2 0
2
32
) 22 . 1 (
n n
P
cr

= (2.6)

Design considerations for high power, short pulse laser systems

74
where is the laser wavelength (m) and P
cr
is on the order of a few megawatts. Self-focusing
can also occur at lower average intensities due to small-scale intensity variations across the
beam profile. Modulations in the intensity profile become more pronounced exponentially with
distance due to induced lenslets caused by the Kerr effect. This leads to a single or several
beam filaments forming which can cause optical damage or optical breakdown. This effect may
be counteracted by the use of spatial filtering before hot spots reach the critical power for self-
focusing. A spatial filter is a pair of lenses arranged with their foci at a single point where a
pinhole is placed. As the pinhole is in the focal plane of the lenses and therefore the Fourier
plane, it will remove the high spatial frequency components of the beam.
2.2.3.2. Self-phase modulation
Self-phase modulation is analogous to self-focusing but acts in the time domain rather
than the spatial domain. Over the duration of an optical pulse the time-dependent intensity I(t)
causes a time dependent change in refractive index, n(t) = n
0
+ n
2
I(t) (from equation 2.5). This
in turn produces a time-dependent phase change, (t) = -n
2
I(t)
0
L/c. At each point in time the
pulse experiences an instantaneous frequency shift () given by the derivative of the phase
change at that point [Siegman 86]:

dt
t dI
c
L n
t
dt
d ) (
) (
0 2

= = (2.7)
This leads to the production of new frequency components and a broadening of the pulse
spectrum. In a pulse with a Gaussian temporal profile, this adds chirp that is only linear over
the central part of the pulse (Figure 2.6). The chirp in the wings of the pulse is highly nonlinear
and difficult to compensate for as a result. In the presence of group-velocity dispersion, self-
phase modulation becomes more complicated. Group-velocity dispersion will change the
duration of the pulse as it propagates, changing the temporal intensity profile and therefore the
action of self-phase modulation. For this reason, modelling requires either a segmented
approach where the effects of self-phase modulation and group-velocity dispersion are added
sequentially in small steps, or by solution of the wave equation. In the same way that spatial
variations of intensity across a beam become more pronounced due to self- focusing, temporal
variations of phase through the pulse can be amplified causing the pulse to break up spectrally
and temporally.

Design considerations for high power, short pulse laser systems

75






-60 -40 -20 0 20 40 60
0.0
5.0x10
10
1.0x10
11
1.5x10
11






P
u
l
s
e

i
n
t
e
n
s
i
t
y

(
W
/
c
m
2
)
Time (femtoseconds)
-2x10
14
-1x10
14
0
1x10
14
2x10
14
F
r
e
q
u
e
n
c
y

s
h
i
f
t
,


(
r
a
d
s
/
s
)

Figure 2.6 Calculation of self-phase modulation of a Gaussian pulse (red) in the absence of
group-velocity dispersion. Blue line shows the instantaneous frequency shift of a 30 fs
Gaussian pulse after propagation through 1 cm of fused silica.
2.2.3.3. B-integral
The effect of these spatial and temporal optical Kerr effects may be generally described
as beam break-up. In a linear system, phase is given by = -n
0
L/c, therefore (from equation
2.5), the phase contribution due to nonlinear effects is be given by
NL
= -n
2
I
0
L/c. The
accumulation of this nonlinear phase through the system is known as the break-up integral or B-
integral and is given by:

L
dz z I z n B
0
2
) ( ) (
2

(2.8)
where I(z) is the intensity as a function of distance along the optical axis (Wcm
-2
) and n
2
(z) is
the nonlinear refractive index of the different materials the beam encounters along the optical
axis (cm
2
W
-1
). In a high power laser system, it is generally required that the total B-integral
should not exceed a value of between three and five to avoid the effects of self-focusing and
self-phase modulation [Siegman 86]. This criterion may be relaxed by making sure the
accumulated B-integral between spatial filters (section 2.2.3.1) does not exceed two [Tisch 95].
This allows the total B-integral accumulated through the system to be as large as ten without
incurring physical damage due to nonlinear spatial effects. This does not include however
temporal nonlinear effects that are particularly critical in the type of chirped pulse amplification
laser system described here. In the best case, B-integral should be kept as small as possible.

Design considerations for high power, short pulse laser systems

76
2.3. The need for modelling
The most critical aspects in the design of a short-pulse, chirped pulse amplification laser
system are the design of the stretcher and compressor. In these two systems, the size of the
optics determines the supportable bandwidth and therefore the duration of the final output pulse.
The angle of the diffraction gratings not only determines their size, but also their efficiency, this
is especially important in the compressor where energy throughput is important. A diffraction
grating is most efficient when used in Littrow configuration (equal input and output angles), and
departure from this reduces the efficiency by a factor of roughly the cosine of half the difference
between the input and output angles [Learner]. In order for there to be zero residual high order
phase in the recompressed pulse, the stretcher and compressor must be well matched. The
compressor contains only diffraction gratings and mirrors, whereas the stretcher has a unit
magnification telescope. Aberrations in this telescope cause mismatches between the stretcher
and compressor and therefore result in residual phase and incomplete compression. Aberrations
can arise from the design of the telescope (e.g. spherical aberration) or from surface
irregularities in the optical components. The latter is important in ultra-short pulse systems, as
the beam is large and spectrally dispersed on many components which adds spectral phase
distortions directly to the pulse. Any stretcher design should also be realisable that is the
alignment tolerances should not be so tight that it is impossible to construct and use on a routine
basis.
It is imperative to be able to gauge the importance of the effects mentioned above and
also to compare the many different designs of stretcher described in the literature. A full, three-
dimensional ray-tracing model specifically designed for chirped pulse amplification is required.
It must include all aspects relevant to short pulse systems such as taking account of high-order
phase contributions and be able to cope with large pulse bandwidths. Most importantly, it must
allow a compromise to be found between the size of optics required (large curved mirrors and
diffraction gratings) and the performance of the required system (in terms of pulse contrast and
recompressed duration) such that as good a system can be constructed for a given investment in
equipment. Such a model is described in the next chapter along with other models that facilitate
the design process at all levels [Mason 98a] [Mason 98b].
3. The Chirped Pulse
Amplification model
A central part of the work described in this thesis has been the development of a
detailed model to aid the design of pulse stretchers for chirped pulse amplification. Specifically
the model has been used to design a stretcher (and corresponding compressor) for use in the
ultrashort pulse upgrade of the Blackett Laboratory Laser Consortium, titanium-doped sapphire
system.
As the temporal pulse duration required from chirped pulse amplification laser systems
decreases, the contribution of high order phase becomes more important. Figure 3.1 shows how
third and fourth order phase contributions increase exponentially as the input pulse duration
decreases (calculated using the code described in this chapter). For this reason and because
there are many different stretcher designs to choose from, a model is needed to compare
different systems and optimise the overall design chosen.







50 100 150 200 250
-2.80x10
9
-2.82x10
9
-2.84x10
9
-2.86x10
9
-2.88x10
9
-2.90x10
9







T
h
i
r
d

o
r
d
e
r

p
h
a
s
e

(
s
3
)
Pulse duration (femtoseconds)
3.36x10
10
3.33x10
10
3.30x10
10
3.27x10
10
3.24x10
10

F
o
u
r
t
h

o
r
d
e
r

p
h
a
s
e

(
s
4
)

Figure 3.1 Calculated contributions of third and fourth order phase as a function of input pulse
duration for a reflective stretcher. High order phase contributions become increasingly
important as the pulse duration is reduced. Third order phase is shown in red and fourth order
phase is shown in blue.
In this chapter, three models for chirped pulse amplification are described. The three
codes were designed sequentially as the need arose for more complex modelling. The first,
looks at macroscopic aspects of the stretcher and compressor and provides a starting point
design. The second traces rays through a two-dimensional stretcher and compressor to calculate

The Chirped Pulse Amplification model

78
projected output pulse profiles [Mason 98a]. The third is a full three-dimensional ray-tracing
code that takes into account displacements of the beam in the plane perpendicular to the plane of
dispersion [Mason 98b]. The codes have also been used to aid the design of stretcher
configurations for the ASTRA ([Langley 99a] and [Langley 99b]) and Vulcan [Danson 99]
lasers at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory.
3.1. Model suite
The primary aim of the chirped pulse amplification model is to compare the many
existing stretcher designs and to design a specific system that performs as required with the
limited resources available for this project. Traditionally refractive optics have been used to
form the unit magnification telescope required for the stretcher of chirped pulse amplification
laser systems ([Martinez 87b], [Fraser 96], [Sullivan 96], [Kalashnikov 97]). This is no longer
appropriate for pulse durations below about fifty femtoseconds due to the large associated
bandwidths and consequent intolerable chromatic aberration. The natural step away from
refractive optics is the use of reflective optics - there have been many examples of how these
can be used in the stretcher telescope ([Rudd 93], [Cheriaux 96]). Most methods aim to produce
an aberration-free design so that the stretcher exactly matches the compressor. The models
developed and described here are capable of comparing these (and any other new) designs to
different degrees of detail.
3.1.1. CPQuick
The first level model looks at macroscopic aspects of the laser system such as input
pulse duration, centre wavelength and the stretcher/compressor characteristics, such as physical
grating separation. Using these it calculates the stretched pulse duration and the approximate
sizes of the optics required to accommodate the associated pulse bandwidth. This is useful in
the initial stages of design so that a basic system that produces the required stretched pulse
duration using reasonably sized optics can be devised.
The specification of the compressor is calculated first as it is the configuration of the
compressor that determines the losses in amplified pulse energy at the end of the system due to
diffraction efficiency, and a large fraction of the cost associated with stretching and
compression of femtosecond pulses (the size of the diffraction gratings). The separation of the
gratings (b, metres) and the input angle (
0
) determine the stretched pulse duration (see Figure
3.2). A combination of the grating input angle, the input beam size and required final pulse
duration determines the size of the gratings needed.

The Chirped Pulse Amplification model

79
Grating Separation = b
Input Angle =
Grating
Angle =
0
Optical
Axis


Figure 3.2 Configuration of the pulse compressor showing the definition of grating separation
(b, metres), grating angle (
0
), diffracted angular spread () and input angle ().

Figure 3.3 shows three different compressor configurations. When the diffraction
gratings are perpendicular to the optical axis, this gives the smallest size of the second grating
(Figure 3.3(a)). For an input pulse with a given bandwidth, the rays from the first grating will
have a certain angular spread. The further away from normal incidence the second grating is,
the larger it has to be to accommodate all the rays. Reducing the size of the grating reduces the
cost dramatically, but at the expense of diffraction efficiency. Diffraction efficiency is
maximum when the input and output angles of the grating are equal (Figure 3.3(b)). This is
known as the Littrow configuration. As the angle between the input and output rays increases,
the diffraction efficiency decreases as roughly the cosine of half the difference between the
input and output angles [Learner]. This configuration will give maximum output energy, but
can be costly given the size of diffraction gratings required, and difficult to build as the input
and output beams are inside the compressor. The ideal configuration is a compromise
between efficiency and grating size. Another factor that needs to be taken into account when
finding this compromise is the finite size of the input and output beams (Figure 3.3(c)). The
two sets of beams must be large enough so as not to damage the gratings due to large fluences
and small enough so as not to be clipped by the opposite grating (or grating mount).
(c) (a) (b)

Figure 3.3 Compressor configurations. (a) Configuration with smallest second diffraction
grating size. (b) Littrow configuration giving largest diffraction efficiency. Input and output in
this case is along the optical axis defined by the dotted line. (c) Compromise configuration that
allows input and output of finite sized beams.

The Chirped Pulse Amplification model

80
The grating constant (d), defined here as the number of grooves per unit distance along
the grating (lines/metre), must also be chosen. If the grating constant is high, the beam is highly
dispersed, so the two compressor gratings do not need to be so far apart to compress a given
stretched pulse. If d is small, the two gratings have to be far apart in order to compress the same
stretched pulse. Diffraction gratings have preferred grating constant values as set by the grating
manufacturers and the techniques used to create them. For this reason the choice of d is quite
limited, or a premium must be paid for non-standard ruling densities. It is more a case of
choosing a ruling density from the set easily available and designing a compressor around it
rather than decide the density from the design. For a given stretched pulse duration, a
compromise must be reached between high dispersion gratings giving a compact system, and
low dispersion gratings giving a physically long system. A long system allows a configuration
closer to Littrow, but is difficult to fit on an optical table. A short system will be compact but
far from Littrow configuration making it inefficient.
All these factors have to be taken into consideration if we are to create a system that
performs well, is practical to build and economical in terms of optic size and cost. CPQuick
allows this to be done by automating the macroscopic calculations associated with chirped pulse
amplification. The stretched pulse duration (T, seconds) is calculated from the input pulse
bandwidth (, metres) and compressor parameters using the analytical equation [Faldon 92]:

0
2
2
0
cos
2


c
bd
T

= (3.1)
where
0
is the laser centre wavelength (m) and c is the speed of light (ms
-1
), which assumes
that
2
(section 1.3) is approximately given by T/ where is the angular frequency
bandwidth of the input pulse. For example, a pulse with 30 nm of bandwidth centred at 800 nm
injected into a compressor with a grating separation of 1 m, a grating angle of 30 and a ruling
density of 1200 lines/mm, will emerge stretched to a duration of ~300 ps. For a given grating
input angle, , measured from the grating normal (Figure 3.2), the first order diffracted angle is
calculated from the grating equation:
d = + sin sin (3.2)
where is the diffracted angle, measured from the grating normal, for a ray of wavelength
(m). The grating angle is often defined as the centre laser wavelength diffraction angle for pulse
compressors, so that sin
0
= d
0
- sin (see Figure 3.2). CPQuick also calculates the projected
maximum focused intensity (I, Watts/m
2
) of the laser after compression. It is assumed that the
total energy after compression (E, Joules) is given by the integral of intensity over space and
time of the pulse,

The Chirped Pulse Amplification model

81
( ) dt dy dx t y x I E


= , , . (3.3)
A pulse with a sech
2
temporal profile with a full-width-half-maximum duration of t (seconds)
and a Gaussian spatial profile with 1/e
2
beam radius (metres) is written as:
( )
( )
e e
y x
t
t
I
t y x I
2
2
2
2
2 2
76 . 1
2
0
cosh
, ,

= (3.4)
where I
0
is the peak intensity (Wm
-2
). The 1/e
2
radius of the beam is related to the full-width-
half-maximum (FWHM) diameter by
FWHM
= 85 . 0 . Equation 3.3 evaluated for all time
and space using equation 3.4 gives the following expression for the peak intensity:

( ) t N
E
I

=
2
0
0
76 . 1

(3.5)
where the projected size of the focal spot is N-times the diffraction limit and is the compressor
diffraction efficiency. The constant in equation 3.5 may be replaced by 1.88 for a pulse with
Gaussian temporal profile. The diffraction limited 1/e
2
focal spot radius for a lens (or reflective
focusing optic) with focal length f (metres), an incident beam with 1/e
2
radius of (metres) and
centre wavelength
0
(metres) is given by:

f
0
0
= . (3.6)
For example, an amplified pulse with 200 mJ of energy, centred at 800 nm, recompressed to a
duration of 40 fs, with a 1/e
2
beam radius of 20 mm, in a compressor that is 50% efficient and
focused by a 30 cm focal length lens to a 2-times diffraction limited spot would produce a
focused intensity of 2.410
18
Wcm
-2
.
The size of optical components is simply calculated geometrically by using the full-
width-half-maximum bandwidth angular spread (, radians) of the beam from the grating,
given by:


0
cos
d
. (3.7)
where
0
is the grating angle (degrees) and is the bandwidth of the input pulse (nm). For
example, a beam with 30 nm of bandwidth incident at a diffraction grating at an angle of 30,
with a grating constant of 1200 lines/mm would give an angular spread of 2.38. The definition
of angular spread is given in Figure 3.2. This definition assumes
0
is related to by
0
and the
grating equation (equation 3.2)

The Chirped Pulse Amplification model

82
3.1.2. CPTrace
Armed with the characteristics of the compressor (grating ruling density, grating
separation and input angle) it is possible to design the stretcher. In order for the stretcher to
exactly match the compressor (in terms of high order phase components), the stretcher imaging
system must be as aberration free as possible. CPTrace models this by tracing rays through a
two-dimensional stretcher and compressor.
t
Output Phase
& Amplitude
FT
-1

Spectral
Clipping

2-D Ray-Trace
of Compressor
t
1 Beam
10
s
1000
s
of rays
2-D Ray-Trace
of Stretcher
FT

Figure 3.4 Flow diagram for the CPTrace model. Blue lines represent spectral/temporal phase
and red lines represent spectral/temporal amplitude. FT represents the Fourier transform and
FT
-1
represents the inverse Fourier transform.
A single beam that has been sampled with between a few tens to a few thousand time
components is injected into the numerical system (Figure 3.4 frame 1). When this beam
encounters a diffraction grating, it splits into many rays, each one travelling in a different
direction according to its frequency, but always in the plane defined by the input ray and the
grating normal (limited to two-dimensions for simplicity). The frequency components to be
traced are calculated from the Fourier transform of an input pulse with a specific temporal
profile, duration and central wavelength (Figure 3.4 frame 2). Phase contributions from the
stretcher and compressor are added to each frequency component by calculating the
accumulated optical path length of each ray as it travels from optic to optic (Figure 3.4 frames 3
and 4). Rays are traced by applying ray transfer equations and/or the grating equation at each
surface. Spectral clipping due to finite sized optics is simulated by aperturing the pulse
spectrum (Figure 3.4 frame 5). The output temporal profile of the pulse is calculated through
the inverse Fourier transform of the input pulse modified by the stretcher and compressor

The Chirped Pulse Amplification model

83
(Figure 3.4 frame 6). Residual phase components are calculated by fitting a polynomial to the
calculated phase profile as a function of frequency.
Each different stretcher/compressor system has to be manually entered into the code,
but the properties of each optical component (such as position, radius of curvature, grating
constant, etc.), is input from a parameter file. This allows specific stretcher designs to be
optimised to match the compressor and different stretcher designs to be compared.
This code is limited to rays traced in a plane (two-dimensions) this is a drawback of
CPTrace. It is usually impossible to design a stretcher or compressor that only works in two-
dimensions. This is because they are normally double-passed in order to double the stretch
factor and remove spatial chirp. Therefore, the beam needs to be vertically displaced in order
that the output does not travel back down the input beam. This vertical displacement introduces
off-axis aberrations as optical surfaces can be curved in the plane perpendicular to the plane of
dispersion. To model this requires a three-dimensional ray-tracing code such a code has been
developed and is outlined in section 3.1.3. CPTrace makes it possible to design the basic
stretcher layout and compare the effects of limiting apertures on the recompressed pulse
duration.
3.1.3. CPTrace3D
This program is the natural progression of CPTrace into three dimensions. Instead of
tracing a single beam that splits into many thousand rays of different frequency, it traces a
bundle of these beams. The bundle comprises a two-dimensional grid that represents a finite
size input beam. Each beam in this grid splits into many thousand rays of different frequency,
traced through the system in the same way as in CPTrace, but now taking into account the three-
dimensional nature of each surface (details in section 3.2.3). As well as the stretcher telescope
introducing geometrical aberrations, aberrations can also arise from imperfect optic surfaces.
This is modelled in CPTrace3D by pistoning the surfaces on a small scale, in other words small
sections of the surface are randomly shifted backwards and forwards along the direction of the
optical axis (details in section 3.2.4). This allows the calculation of acceptable surface figure,
which plays an important part in the cost of large optics. At the end of the system the beams are
recombined to produce an overall pulse profile at an imaginary beam focus (details in section
3.2.5).
Different systems to be traced are entirely encapsulated in an input file, so changing the
system configuration does not involve rewriting and recompiling the code. This makes the
model far more flexible than CPTrace allowing many more systems to be traced easily. Section
3.2 explains how each part of CPTrace3D works in detail.

The Chirped Pulse Amplification model

84
3.2. Detailed model description
This section describes the routines that are used in both CPTrace and CPTrace3D.
CPTrace uses all the routines that will be described except the surface imperfection and pulse
combining routines. In addition, the ray-tracing part of the code only works in two dimensions
in CPTrace. CPTrace3D follows the same flow diagram as that in Figure 3.4, but the spatial
(and therefore spectral) clipping is done on a surface-by-surface basis. As a result, when large
beam sizes are used, bandwidth clipping may be soft rather than hard. CPTrace simulates
clipping by aperturing the bandwidth with a hard edge causing unrealistic fast modulations in
the output pulse temporal profile. See section 2.2.1.3 for an explanation of the difference
between soft and hard clipping.
3.2.1. Pulse definition
The input pulse is defined by seven parameters: two spatial, four temporal and one
spectral. Two definitions are used throughout this thesis to describe the pulse properties: the
word ray is defined as the path of light of a specific wavelength and the word beam is defined as
a bundle of rays all travelling in the same initial direction. In the pulse definition section of the
model, the input temporal pulse profile is sampled by a number of time steps. To calculate the
frequency components that should be traced, the pulse is Fourier transformed (see section
3.2.2). The centre of the calculated pulse spectrum is set by the input parameter CentWavl. The
number of frequency components traced is equal to the number of time steps in the pulse
definition and is the same as the number of rays.
N
u
m
B
e
a
m
s
F
W
H
M
S
p
a
c
e
B
e
a
m
s
x
y
t
I
I
FWHMTimeSteps
NumTimeSteps

Figure 3.5 Pulse definition. I represents intensity, x and y are the beam coordinates and t is the
time parameter. The time window is split into NumTimeSteps time steps with the full-width-
half-maximum pulse duration described by FWHMTimeSteps steps. The spatial array is
defined by a grid of NumBeams NumBeams, with the full-width-half-maximum beam
diameter described by FWHMSpaceBeams beams.

The Chirped Pulse Amplification model

85
Finite sized input beams are described by defining a two-dimensional array of beams
(the overall beam profile is assumed to be Gaussian). The array is a square grid with side length
NumBeams, which means a total of NumBeams
2
beams are traced (see Figure 3.5). The number
of beams contained within the full-width-half-maximum beam diameter is defined as
FWHMSpaceBeams. If FWHMSpaceBeams is set to equal NumBeams, then only beams
contained within the full-width-half-maximum beam diameter will be traced. The real world
full-width-half-maximum size of the beam is defined for each optical system that is traced (see
section 3.2.3).
Every beam in the spatial array contains NumTimeSteps elements (see Figure 3.5). The
number of steps contained within the full-width-half-maximum pulse duration is defined as
FWHMTimeSteps. The temporal duration of the pulse is defined as PulseDur. Consequently,
the time window (T
window
) in which the pulse is described is defined as:
ps NumTimeSte
eps FWHMTimeSt
PulseDur
T
window
= . (3.8)
-40 -20 0 20 40 60 80
0.0
0.2
0.4
0.6
0.8
1.0
Gaussian
Sech
2
Duration
30 fs
N
o
r
m
a
l
i
s
e
d

I
n
t
e
n
s
i
t
y
Time (femtoseconds)
-90 -60 -30 0 30 60 90
1E-4
1E-3
0.01
0.1
1

Figure 3.6 Profiles of 30 femtosecond Gaussian (red) and sech
2
(black) pulses. Inset graph
shows the same profiles on a log intensity scale.
The pulse temporal profile may take two shapes: Gaussian or sech
2
. Although the
model always uses the electric field (amplitude, A) of the pulse, the pulse duration, PulseDur, in
equations 3.9 and 3.10 is defined as the duration of the square of the electric field (intensity) of
the pulse. The equations for the pulse amplitude at time t are defined as:
( )
PulseDur
a e t A
t a
2 ln 2
,
2 2
= =

(3.9)

The Chirped Pulse Amplification model

86
( )
( )
PulseDur
b
e e
t A
bt bt
1 2 ln 2
,
2 +
=
+
=

(3.10)
for Gaussian and sech
2
pulses respectively. The reason for defining PulseDur as the full-width-
half-maximum of the pulse intensity profile is that pulses in any real system are measured in
intensity rather than amplitude (for example with an autocorrelator see section 1.2.2.2). The
peak amplitude of each pulse at a given position in the input grid (NumBeamsNumBeams) is
modified by the intensity at that point, which follows the intensity profile of the input beam
(Figure 3.5). The pulse profile, Gaussian or sech
2
, is set in the model by the variable PulseType.
Figure 3.6 shows the profiles of Gaussian and sech
2
pulses of 30 fs duration on a linear and log
intensity scale.
3.2.2. Fourier transforms
In order to calculate the frequency components that should be traced through the
system, the Fourier transform of the input pulse is taken. Each beam in the input array (Figure
3.5) contains an input pulse temporal profile whose amplitude is modified by the beam profile.
The Fourier transform of each of these pulse profiles gives the transform-limited spectral profile
of that pulse:
( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) t A FT dt e t A A
t i
= =


(3.11)
where A() is the amplitude spectrum, A(t) is the temporal pulse amplitude profile and is the
laser angular frequency (radians s
-1
). The inverse transform is given as follows:
( ) ( ) ( ) ( )

= =

A FT d e A t A
t i 1
2
1
(3.12)
The functions A() and A(t) are generally complex, with amplitude information
contained within the real, and phase information the imaginary part of each function. The input
pulse, defined as A(t), is discretely sampled and so the discrete Fourier transform must be used.
A(t) is described by a number of samples, defined in the model as NumRays samples and is
written as:
( ) ... , 2 , 1 , 0 , 1 , 2 ..., , = = n n A A
n
(3.13)
where is the sampling interval defined in the model as = PulseDur/FWHMTimeSteps. In
frequency space, the frequency interval is then = 2/(NumRays) and the frequency range
is given by -/ / (see Figure 3.7). The numerical Fourier transform is written as:
( )

1
0
/
N
k
N ikn
k n
e A A (3.14)

The Chirped Pulse Amplification model

87
where N = NumRays,
n
= 2n/(NumRays) and n takes values from -NumRays/2 to
NumRays/2 [Press 92]. It would appear from this that there are NumRays+1 frequency
components output from the discrete transform. In fact, the two frequency components at the
extreme ends of the range, NumRays/2, are equal giving only NumRays frequency components
as expected. The inverse numerical transform is written as:
( )

1
0
/
2
1
N
n
N ikn
n n
e A
N
t A

(3.15)
If the input temporal pulse is to retain its integrity after being operated on by the Fourier
transform, the frequency window of the transformed pulse must be large enough to contain the
bandwidth of the pulse. That is, the value of the sampled Fourier transformed pulse, A(
n
),
must be zero at |
n
| = /. If this condition is satisfied, the pulse is completely determined by
its samples, i.e. bandwidth limited [Press 92]. This condition is known as the sampling theorem
(see Figure 3.7c). If the sampling theorem condition is not met, then non-zero values of A(
n
)
that would normally lie outside the range |
n
| = / will be reflected back into this range. This
is known as aliasing and creates a calculated pulse spectrum that differs considerably from the
analytically transformed pulse case (see Figure 3.7d).
FT
A()

(d)
0
-/ /
A()

(c)
0
-/ /
A(t)
t

(a)
0
NumTimeSteps
A()


(b)
0
NumRays

Figure 3.7 The discrete Fourier transform sample points, represented by blue dots, are
illustrative only. (a) Shows the sampled input pulse. (b) Shows how this is transformed into
frequency space. (c) Shows the non-aliased result where values of A(
n
) are zero at the
extremes of the sample set (where |
n
| = /). (d) Shows the aliased result where values of
A(
n
) outside the sample range (red) are flipped back into range creating a spectrum that is
elevated near the edges (blue). Note NumTimeSteps = NumRays.
To avoid aliasing, the time step size, , and total number of time steps, NumTimeSteps,
must be chosen so that the frequency window is large enough to contain the whole pulse
spectrum. This often involves having a time window that is considerably larger than the

The Chirped Pulse Amplification model

88
duration of the input pulse. The time around the pulse at the centre is padded out with zeros to
make up a continuous profile. The numerical Fourier transform assumes that the pulse to be
transformed repeats for all time, i.e. a train of pulses. In order that the phase profile of the
transformed pulse is flat across the centre frequency components, the pulse must be shifted in
time by half the number of time steps. Another way of think about this is that the pulse defined
in Figure 3.7a, has time equal to zero in the centre of the array. The transform requires that time
starts at zero at the first array element. The input for the transform needs to be a pulse train so
the first half of the pulse that is lost by shifting the time origin to the left, is wrapped around to
the end of the array (see Figure 3.8). The output of the transform also has zero frequency at the
beginning of the array, so in order to have a spectrum that is centred in the middle of the array, a
similar shift to that of Figure 3.8 must be performed. The spectrum is shifted to the correct
centre frequency by adding
0
= 2c/CentWavl (the centre frequency of the input pulse) to .
0 0 max/min
+ve +ve -ve -ve
Array Length Repeat to Repeat to

Figure 3.8 Rearrangement of the pulse in time and frequency in order that phase is zero across
the centre of the pulse. This reformatting also places zero time and wavelength in the correct
positions.
The numerical transform used is similar to that described in Chapter 12 of [Press 92]
(but with a different sign convention in the exponent) and is called the Fast Fourier Transform
or FFT. This routine reduces the computational time by requiring only N(lnN) steps rather than
N
2
steps as with conventional numerical techniques (N is the array length). The transform used
in the model is taken from an IMSL mathematical functions library [IMSL]. This routine is
most efficient when the array length is a product of small primes - this limits the choice of
suitable array sizes and always means that the array size is odd.
The output of this part of the code is a transform of Figure 3.5 into an array of beams
each containing a number of frequency components, or rays. Figure 3.9 shows how the input
pulses of Figure 3.5 have been transformed.

The Chirped Pulse Amplification model

89
N
u
m
B
e
a
m
s
F
W
H
M
S
p
a
c
e
B
e
a
m
s
x
y

I
A
NumRays

0

Figure 3.9 Definition of transformed pulse. Each beam now contains NumRays frequency
components. The amplitude of each spectrum is modified by the amplitude of the beam at each
position in the beam profile array.

The Chirped Pulse Amplification model

90
3.2.3. Three-dimensional ray-tracing
The ray-tracing part of the model can be split into three sections. The first is the
transfer of rays from surface to surface using geometry and trigonometry, extended to three
dimensions. The second is the calculation of the direction a ray will travel when it encounters a
discontinuity in refractive index, using Snells law in three dimensions. The final section is the
calculation of the direction of each ray as it diffracts from a diffraction grating. Each section is
discussed in detail below.
3.2.3.1. Ray transfer equations
The optical system to be traced is split up into several surface sections. Each section is
described by up to twelve parameters, the distance from the current position to the next surface
(D, metres), the surface type and ten other parameters summarised in Table 3.1. The incident
ray is described by six parameters: the ray starting position (X,Y,Z), the ray direction angles in
the x- and y-planes (
x
and
y
) and the ray wavelength (, metres). The full-width-half-
maximum diameter of the input beam is additionally set by the parameter BeamSize. BeamSize
is divided into FWHMSpaceBeams samples.

Surface type
Spherical Plane Reflection Grating
1 x-tilt,
x
x-tilt,
x
x-tilt,
x

2 y-tilt,
y
y-tilt,
y
y-tilt,
y

3 optical medium 1 optical medium 1 optical medium 1
4 optical medium 2 optical medium 2 -
5 x-shift, x
s
x-shift, x
s
ruling density, d
6 y-shift, y
s
y-shift, y
s
wavelength
7 Radius of Curvature, R - diffraction order, n
8 flatness, /P8 flatness, /P8 ruling direction
9 x-surface width, W
x
x-surface width, W
x
x-surface width, W
x

P
a
r
a
m
e
t
e
r

10 y-surface width, W
y
y-surface width, W
y
y-surface width, W
y

Table 3.1 Surface definition parameters for the three different types of surface: Spherical, Plane
and Reflecting diffraction Grating. P8 represents the value of parameter number 8.
The ray starting position parameters and surface parameters for each section are
summarised in Figure 3.10. The ray starting position is defined as a displacement from the
position of the first optical component due to the components shape or tilt. The units of this
displacement (X,Y,Z) is metres. The ray direction is defined by the two angles it subtends in the
x-z and y-z planes. The unit of these angles (
x
and
y
) is degrees. The equation of the
incident ray is described by the intersection of two planes:
( ) ( ) 0 tan = X x Z z
x
(3.16)

The Chirped Pulse Amplification model

91
( ) ( ) 0 tan = Y y Z z
y
(3.17)
The parameter D (metres) defines the distance between the centre of the surface the ray
emerges from, to the centre of the surface it is travelling to (see Figure 3.10). The centre of the
second surface can be shifted in the x- and y-directions using parameters 5 and 6 (x
s
and y
s
,
metres). This allows spherical surfaces to be used off centre and surface positions to be
toleranced (important for testing the usability of various designs). The surface can be tilted
about its centre by defining a tilt angle in the x- and y-directions using parameters 1 and 2 (
x

and
y
, degrees). This is useful for setting the input angles for diffraction gratings and the
angles of mirrors for retroreflecting beams. Parameters 3 and 4 set the type of optical medium
before and after the second surface respectively. A lens may be defined by creating two curved
surfaces close together with a glass material between them. The optical medium setting is used
in the calculation of Snells law (see section 3.2.3.2)
Z
z
y
Y
y
s

y

y
D
W
y
Surface
Centre
z
y
x
Plane of
Dispersion
Intercept
(z
i
,y
i
)
Previous
Surface
Centre

Figure 3.10 Ray and surface parameter conventions used by the ray transfer equations. The ray
and surface are only shown in the z-y plane. The origin of this plane represents the centre of
the surface the ray is emerging from. Inset shows axis convention and plane of dispersion.
At this point, it is possible to define the equation for plane surfaces and gratings.
Gratings are just defined as plane surfaces with diffractive properties and a phase correction to
compensate for the uneven surface profile (see section 3.2.3.3). The equation of a plane surface
is given in the model as:
( ) ( ) ( ) 0 tan tan = + D z y y x x
y s x s
(3.18)

The Chirped Pulse Amplification model

92
Equations 3.16, 3.17 and 3.18 form simultaneous equations, the solution of which gives the
intercept of an incident ray with a plane surface (x
i
,y
i
,z
i
, metres). The ray-surface intercept is
given by:
( )
x i
Z z X x + = tan (3.19)
( )
y i
Z z Y y + = tan (3.20)

( ) ( ) ( )
1 tan tan tan tan
tan tan tan tan tan tan
+
+
=
y y x x
y s x s y y x x
i
D y Y x X Z
z


(3.21)
The length of the ray can now be calculated using the start and end coordinates of the
ray and Pythagoras theorem in three dimensions. The optical length of the ray is calculated by
multiplying the length of the ray by the refractive index of the medium the ray is propagating in.
The phase the ray of wavelength has accumulated is then given by:
( )
( ) ( ) ( )


2 2 2
1
2
i i i
z Z y Y x X n + +
= (3.22)
where n
1
is the refractive index of the medium the ray propagates in.
The flatness of spherical and plane surfaces can be set with parameter 8 (P8, see Table
3.1). The parameter becomes the denominator in the fraction that defines the surface figure, in
other words /P8 (for example a standard optical surface figure might be /10). Parameter 8
must be an integer, the definition of surface figure is discussed in more detail in section 3.2.4.
The surface size can be set by defining widths in the x- and y-directions using
parameters 9 and 10 (W
x
and W
y
, metres). When a ray intercepts a surface outside the
dimensions specified by W
x
and W
y
, the ray amplitude is set to zero and it is no longer traced.
Setting the size of the optic in only two directions means that the surface can only be
rectangular. Other shapes can be simulated by setting a different width for different encounters
of the surface. This involves having to know exactly where the rays fall each time the surface is
encountered. For this purpose, and to calculate the used area of a surface, a file can be saved
which logs every point that a ray hits a surface.
Spherical surfaces are described in exactly the same way as plane surfaces with the
addition of an extra parameter radius of curvature (R, metres). The sign of R is positive when
the centre of curvature is to the positive z side of the surface. The equation of a spherical
surface is given in the model as:
( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) 0 tan tan
2 2 2 2
= + + R y y x x D R z y y x x
y s x s s s
(3.23)

The Chirped Pulse Amplification model

93
Equations 3.16, 3.17 and 3.23 form simultaneous equations, the solution of which gives
the intercept of the incident ray with the spherical surface (x
i
,y
i
,z
i
, metres). The ray length is
calculated in the same way as for the plane surface case using equations 3.19, 3.20 and 3.22.
The result for z
i
is not given here due to its size and complexity, but is used in the code every
time a ray intercepts a spherical surface.
3.2.3.2. Snells law
Snells law is used to calculate refractive and reflective effects on rays in the code. It is
simply defined by an equation and the statement that the input and output rays and the surface
normal lie in a plane [Newton 79]. The equation is written as n
1
sin
1
= n
2
sin
2
, where n is the
refractive index, is the angle between the ray and the surface normal and the subscripts denote
the incident (1) and refracted (2) rays. This can be extended into three dimensions using the
following equation:
( ) ( )
2 12 2 1 12 1
S n n S n n = (3.24)
where n
12
is the surface normal unit vector and S is the ray unit vector for incident (1) and
refracted (2) rays. This cross-product relation can be separated into three equations for the x-,
y- and z-directions as follows:
( ) ( )
y z z y y y z y
S n S n n i S n S n n i
1 12 1 12 1 2 12 2 12 2
= (3.25)
( ) ( )
z x x z z x x z
S n S n n j S n S n n j
1 12 1 12 1 2 12 2 12 2
= (3.26)
( ) ( )
x y y x x y y x
S n S n n k S n S n n k
1 12 1 12 1 2 12 2 12 2
= (3.27)
where i, j and k are the unit vectors representing the x-, y- and z-directions and the superscripts
x, y and z represent the three orthogonal components of the vectors n
12
, S
1
and S
2
.
Snells law, in this form, is used in the model to calculate refracted ray angles. It is also
used to calculate rays in reflection by setting n
2
equal to n
1
. When imperfect surfaces are used,
the surface normal vector at every position on a surface is modified. This is explained in more
detail in section 3.2.4.
When an optical medium is specified in the model, the parameter medium is set to, for
example, bk7 for BK 7 glass. The refractive index as a function of wavelength for the
material is then calculated using, for example, the Sellmeier equation:


+ =
j j
j
A
n
2
0
2
2
2
1

(3.28)

The Chirped Pulse Amplification model

94
where n is the refractive index of the medium, (microns) is the wavelength at which n is
required A
j
are constants and
0j
2
are the vacuum wavelengths associated with a natural
frequency
0j
, such that
0j

0j
= c, the speed of light [Hecht 87]. For example, to calculate the
refractive index of sapphire, the following coefficients and wavelengths are used [Malitson 67]:

3616 . 321
0122544 . 0
00377588 . 0
280792 . 5
058264 . 1
023798 . 1
2
03
2
02
2
01
3
2
1
=
=
=
=
=
=

A
A
A
(3.29)
accurate to 310
-6
between 400 nm and 750 nm, and 510
-6
between 750 nm and 1014 nm
[Melles Griot]
3.2.3.3. Diffractive optics and the grating equation
The grating equation in two dimensions has already been described in section 3.1.1,
equation 3.2. In the plane orthogonal to the plane of dispersion, the rays obey Snells law. In
reality, this may not be strictly accurate, but in the systems considered here, diffraction gratings
are aligned perpendicular to the plane of dispersion. Any deviations from this case, for example
angling beams so that input and output paths do not overlap, are small and considered to be an
insignificant perturbation to the grating equation. Rigorous treatment of rays incident on
diffraction gratings at angles outside the plane of dispersion, requires the solution of Maxwells
equations at the grating surface [Jarem 99] this is beyond the scope of this thesis work.
The aim of the model is to calculate the frequency dependent phase of a pulse as it
propagates through a stretcher and compressor. When a ray encounters a mirror, the surface is
flat (except for imposed surface imperfections) and so measurements of ray lengths may be
made directly to the surface. Grating surfaces, however, are not flat and so compensation must
be made when calculating phase. This problem has been treated in a paper by Treacy [Treacy
69] and amounts to an addition of 2 phase for every additional groove along the grating from a
fixed reference point (see Figure 3.11).
In the model the distance that the ray is from an arbitrary reference point is calculated
and divided by the grating pitch (d
-1
, the distance between adjacent grooves) in order to
calculate the number of multiples of 2 to add. The phase addition due to the grating is
therefore given as:

The Chirped Pulse Amplification model

95
Fd
add
2 = (3.30)
where F is the distance along the grating from the reference point measured positive according
to x in Figure 3.11 (metres) and d is the ruling density (lines/metre) see also figure 1.9.

+2
+5(2)
/2
1 2 3 0 4 5 6
x
Phase Addition
a
b
c
Reference Point

Figure 3.11 Phase addition due to grating surface structure. The left hand diagram represents
the grating surface, the right hand diagram is a graph of phase addition. Ray (a) starts with
phase . Ray (b) is one groove away and so the phase at this point is the original phase plus
2. Ray (c) is 5 grooves away and so the phase addition at this point is 5 times 2.
Another way of thinking about this phase addition is via Figure 3.12. AA and CC
represent surfaces of constant phase. The problem with using path length to calculate phase is
that the path ABC is longer than ABC. The phase addition of equation 3.30 must be added
along the grating surface BB in order to correct for this.
A
B
A
B
C
C

Figure 3.12 Calculation of ray phase upon diffraction through an ideal grating pair
compressor. AA and CC are both wavefronts, but path ABC is longer than ABC. Adapted
from figure 3 of [Treacy 69]. Phase correction of the type given by equation 3.30 must be
added to compensate for this.

The Chirped Pulse Amplification model

96
3.2.4. Surface imperfections
When trying to design a stretcher and compressor system that are matched up to fifth
order phase, the quality of optical surfaces becomes an important consideration. For example, if
an optical surface is considered to be flat to /10, then two sections of the surface that lie at the
extremes of this specification may differ in phase by ~0.5 radians (calculated for a laser
wavelength of 800 nm and a test wavelength of 633 nm). This is important when trying to
reduce residual phase at the end of the system to less than as some optical surfaces are
passed many times. To quantify the surface quality allowable for a given system, a section of
the code was added which models imperfect surfaces.
Departures from a perfect flat optical surface fall into two groups: a low spatial
frequency undulation and a high frequency ripple (see Figure 3.13). The low frequency
imperfection is described by the peak-to-valley surface specification. The high frequency
imperfection is described by the RMS surface specification. The difference in magnitude
between these two types of surface irregularity is that the low frequency imperfections tend to
be roughly six times that of the high frequency imperfections [Optical Surfaces]. In other
words, of two surfaces with the same surface specification (e.g. /10), the RMS specified
surface would be flatter than the peak-to-valley specified surface.
In order to make a realistic estimate of how this should be implemented, a paper by
Antonetti et al at ENSTA [Antonetti 97] was used. In this paper, pulses from a 30 fs oscillator
are stretched and recompressed and an autocorrelation of the output pulse is made. On the third
page of the article, the autocorrelation profile is plotted while the flatness of the large concave
stretcher mirror is changed. The model was adjusted to match this data as closely as possible
(the results of this matching are presented in more detail in section 4.1.4).
-0.1
0
0.1
-0.1
0
0.1
-2
-1
0
1
2
-0.1
0
0.1
2
4
6
8
10
2
4
6
8
10
-1.0
-0.5
0.0
0.5
1.0

Figure 3.13 Slow (left diagram) and fast (right diagram) variations added to surfaces to
simulate surface imperfections. Slow and fast variations added in amplitude ratio ~6:1.
The surface of an optic in the model is assumed to vary from the ideal in a continuous
fashion. The fast and slow variations of the surface are represented in Figure 3.13. Surface

The Chirped Pulse Amplification model

97
irregularities are modelled using a technique called pistoning [Maxwell]. In this technique,
the surface is split into many squares and each square is moved (pistoned) backwards or
forwards along the optical axis according to how it is perturbed from the ideal. Figure 3.14
illustrates this with a spherical concave surface that has a fast spatial frequency perturbation.
Each surface is only described by a discrete number of points so, in order to make the
simulation more realistic, points are interpolated between the pistoned points to give a more
continuous surface. This causes small portions of the surface to have an additional tilt that
steers rays away from their normally reflected or refracted path.
R R
Surface
Irregularities
(RMS)
Pistoning
Surface
Simulation
RMS
Displacement
/a
/a
Ideal
Sphere

Figure 3.14 Surface pistoning. Left hand diagram represents ideal spherical concave surface
(black) with high spatial frequency irregularities (red). Right hand diagram shows how these
irregularities are simulated by pistoning.
3.2.5. Pulse combination and output methodology
After light paths through the stretcher and compressor have been traced, each test beam
contains a number of rays of different wavelength. The amplitude of each of these rays will
either have the value it started with, or zero if it fell outside the physical bounds of any of the
optics in the system. The phase of each ray will have been modified by the path it took through
the stretcher and compressor. In order to transform this information back into the temporal
domain, the inverse Fourier transform is performed (see section 3.2.2). After this operation
each beam has a temporal pulse profile associated with it. In order to combine these pulses to
produce a single pulse profile (as would be seen on an experiment), the set of beams is focused
(numerically) using an achromatic, aspheric lens. This has the effect of bringing all the beams

The Chirped Pulse Amplification model

98
to the same point in space and time. In the model this just means all the temporal profiles are
added with a weight according to their position in the beam (see Figure 3.15). The beam is
assumed to have a Gaussian spatial profile so individual beams in the centre are weighted more
than those at the edge.
Achromatic,
Aspheric
Lens
Output
Pulse
Profile
Beam
Amplitude
Profile
Beam/Pulse
Info
- 20
- 10
0
10
20
-20
-10
0
10
20

Figure 3.15 Each beam traced through the stretcher and compressor is brought to the focus of a
numerical achromatic, aspheric lens. This has the effect of bringing each beam to the same
point in space and time to produce a single output pulse temporal profile.
The output of the code is a single pulse temporal profile and associated temporal phase.
As well as combining all the beams into one pulse profile, each individual beams pulse profile
can be saved to see how output pulse temporal profile changes across the beam. The code will
also calculate the pulse duration and contrast of each profile. The duration is found by
measuring the width of the largest pulse at the half maximum position (full-width-half-
maximum duration). The contrast is found by calculating the ratio of the centre peak intensity
(which is always normalised) to the intensity of the next highest peak in the whole time
window. These two values can be saved in a grid representing each of the beam positions. This
is useful when calculating how large beams can be before the overall pulse profile is degraded.
Generally, stretchers perform less well for beams away from the optical axis; and as a result off-
axis recompressed pulse durations can be intolerably long for large diameter beams.
As well as saving a temporal intensity profile for each beam, the temporal phase profile
can also be saved. This is useful when looking at how accumulated phase changes across the
beam, at a given wavelength. It also helps when deciding how large beam diameters should be,
or can be.
3.2.6. Code limitations
There are a few points to remember when using the code to model stretcher and
compressor designs. All variables within the code are defined to double precision, which
imposes no practical limit to the accuracy of the calculations. Errors associated with the
numerical Fourier transform can limit how many orders of magnitude are available to describe

The Chirped Pulse Amplification model

99
pulse profile. These limitations, however, are at the ~10
-20
level and so impose no real
problems. There is a problem though when defining the pulse temporal window, as mentioned
in section 3.2.2. If the time window is not large enough to encompass the bandwidth of the
pulse, calculated through the Fourier transform, the problem of aliasing can arise. This, as
described in section 3.2.2, is caused by the folding of frequency components that would
normally lie outside the frequency window, back into the frequency window, creating an
artificial Fourier transform. To overcome this problem, the temporal pulse profile, even though
short, needs to be padded-out with zeros to create a large time window.
Nowhere in the code are the effects of diffraction taken into account. The assumption is
adequate as long as large beam diameters are used. The criterion to follow is that the Rayleigh
range of a beam should be longer than the total path of the beam through each optical system
traced. The Rayleigh range is given by:

0
2

w
z
R
= (3.31)
where w
2
is the 1/e
2
beam radius and
0
is the laser wavelength [Silfvast 96]. For example, a
1 mm full-width-half-maximum diameter beam of wavelength 800 nm has a Rayleigh range of
2.8 m. The Rayleigh range is defined as the distance over which the beam increases in size by a
factor 2. As long as beams are kept relatively large, the fact that diffraction is not included in
the code should not be a problem.
4. Modelling results
This chapter presents results obtained from the codes used to investigate a range of
stretcher and compressor designs. There are many things the code can tell about how a specific
system might perform which are not mentioned here. They do however play an important role
in the fine-tuning of a particular system. These include: the calculation of spectral phase and
temporal profile of each beam across a finite beam profile to measure the effects of finite beam
size; tolerancing of surfaces to gauge whether a system is feasible to align; and calculation of
the temporal output pulse profile as a function of compressor grating separation to measure the
sensitivity to adjustment of the compressor.
The results shown fall into three categories: verification that the code models its major
components in the correct fashion; a summary of the systems considered prior to the final
design; and a specification and results of the final design. The design presented here will be
built and tested in the next chapter: System implementation and characterisation.
Some of the results of this work have been published in [Mason 98a] and [Mason 98b].
As well as being used to design a stretcher for use in the Blackett Laboratory Laser Consortium
titanium-doped sapphire chirped pulse amplification laser system, the codes have been used to
help design stretchers for the ASTRA ([Langley 99a] and [Langley 99b]) and Vulcan [Danson
99] lasers at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (see section 4.4).
4.1. Code verification results
This section aims to verify the working of the code by setting simple tasks for which the
outcome can be calculated from first principles, using well-known analytical results. Four areas
of the code are tested: the temporal characteristics, the implementation of material and
diffractive dispersion, the transfer of rays from one surface to another using Snells law, and the
modelling of surface imperfections.
4.1.1. Dispersionless runs
This section tests the capabilities of the code in terms of pulse definition and the Fourier
transform. Pulses of a relevant duration and either Gaussian or sech
2
temporal profile are
defined. The pulses are Fourier transformed into frequency space to make sure they fit within
the frequency window. When the pulse spectra are inverse-transformed, in the absence of
material or added dispersion, they should closely resemble (within the limits of numerical

Modelling results

101
errors) the original pulse profiles. Deviations from this represent numerical limitations of the
code.






-2000 -1000 0 1000 2000
1E-43
1E-37
1E-31
1E-25
1E-19
1E-13
1E-7
0.1






Output Input
N
o
r
m
a
l
i
s
e
d

i
n
t
e
n
s
i
t
y
Time (femtoseconds)
600 800 1000 1200 1400
1E-21
1E-18
1E-15
1E-12
1E-9
1E-6
1E-3
1
Wavelength (nanometres)

N
o
r
m
a
l
i
s
e
d

a
m
p
l
i
t
u
d
e

Figure 4.1 Spectral and temporal outputs of the code in the absence of material dispersion on a
logarithmic scale. The input pulse in this case was a 30 fs Gaussian pulse. The red curve
shows the pulse spectrum, the blue curve shows the input temporal profile and the green curve
shows the, laterally displaced, output temporal profile. Dotted line represents the detection
limit of laboratory pulse profile and spectrum measurement devices.
Figure 4.1 shows the result of such a dispersionless run with the code. The blue curve
shows the Gaussian intensity profile of the 30 fs input pulse. The red curve shows the profile of
the spectrum of the pulse calculated using the Fourier transform. The extent of the wavelength
scale (top axis) represents the wavelength window imposed by the code. The green curve
shows the (laterally shifted for clarity) output pulse profile. As can be seen from these plots
there is no practical dynamic range limit imposed by the code. The extent of the time scale
(bottom axis) represents the temporal window of the input pulse. In order to avoid internal
underflow errors the code limits amplitude dynamic range to twenty-five orders of magnitude.
This limits the intensity profile to fifty orders of magnitude (amplitude squared). It was thought
that given the best laboratory pulse profile measurement device is limited to only about eight
orders of magnitude, that this level of accuracy would be sufficient.

Modelling results

102
4.1.2. Dispersion only calculations
The code handles two types of dispersion to model chirped pulse amplification. The
first, material dispersion, enables calculations to be made of how pulses are stretched as they
propagate through different optical media. The second, diffractive dispersion, calculates how
rays are deviated according to their wavelength by diffraction gratings.
Material dispersion calculations have been checked by passing a short (30 fs) pulse
through a fixed amount of optical material (1 cm of BK7). The accumulated phase as a function
of wavelength calculated by the code is compared with the same calculation done manually for
selected wavelengths across the bandwidth of the pulse. The equation used for the manual
calculation of phase () as a function of wavelength (, m) for a given length (L, m) of
dispersive material is as follows:
( )
( )



L n 2
= (4.1)
where n() is the refractive index of the dispersive medium at wavelength calculated using the
Sellemeier equation for BK7 (see section 3.2.3.2, equation 3.26).
Figure 4.2 shows the comparison of the manual calculation (black circles on red line)
for six discrete points in the frequency window and the calculation using the code (red line).
Both calculations agree across the whole frequency window to eleven decimal places (the limit
of accuracy of the calculator used for the manual calculations).






700 750 800 850 900 950
1.0x10
6
1.1x10
6
1.2x10
6
1.3x10
6
1.4x10
6
1.5x10
6






A
c
c
u
m
u
l
a
t
e
d

p
h
a
s
e

(
r
a
d
i
a
n
s
)
Wavelength (nanometres)
-0.15
-0.10
-0.05
0.00
0.05
0.10

I
n
t
e
r
c
e
p
t

p
o
s
i
t
i
o
n

(
m
e
t
r
e
s
)

Figure 4.2 Comparison of calculations using the code (solid lines) and performed manually
(black circles) testing material (red) and diffractive (blue) dispersion.

Modelling results

103
Diffractive dispersion calculations have been checked by diffracting a short (30 fs)
pulse from a 1200 lines/mm grating. The grating is arranged such that the centre wavelength
ray (800 nm) strikes the centre of a 20 cm screen placed 1 m away (grating input angle 33.8
and centre wavelength diffracted angle 23.8). The position that rays strike the screen in the
dispersion plane is compared with manual calculations as a function of wavelength. Figure 4.2
shows the result of this test. The manual calculations are shown by black circles on the blue
line and the blue line shows the result of calculations with the code. Again, both agree to within
the limitations of the manual calculation mentioned above.
4.1.3. Ray transfer tests
As described in section 3.2.3.1, the ray transfer equations are used to calculate the
trajectories of rays from surface to surface. There are two important aspects of ray-tracing that
should be tested: ray-surface intercepts and Snells law (limited to the calculation of angles of
reflection for this test). To test these, a point source of rays is retro-reflected using a spherical
mirror. A convenient way of producing a point source in the code is by diffracting a short pulse
from a diffraction grating (there is no provision for defining a point source specifically). A
concave spherical mirror of radius of curvature 1 m is then placed 1 m away from the grating so
that the centre wavelength ray (800 nm) strikes its centre (Figure 4.3). A screen is placed at the
position of the grating to mark where the rays are imaged, perpendicular to the optical axis
(drawn from the centre of the diffraction grating to the centre of the concave mirror). This tests
the use of Snells law at the reflection off the spherical mirror. In order to test the off-axis
performance of the code a nine-by-nine array of beams is traced with an extent of 1 cm in the
dispersive and orthogonal planes.
Figure 4.4 shows the positions the rays strike the screen looking towards the concave
mirror. The colour index (displayed on the right hand side of the graph) represents rays of
different wavelength that originate from the grating. Longer wavelengths are diffracted in the
negative direction with respect to the horizontal axis of the graph. The centre circle at (0.0,0.0)
is the image of the point source located at the centre of the diffraction grating (point A in Figure
4.3). Due to the order that the ray images are drawn, this circle appears blue, but in fact, all
colour circles are superimposed. This shows that the ray transfer equations and calculations of
Snells law for reflection work.

Modelling results

104
A
B
S
G
M

Figure 4.3 Schematic showing layout in the z-x plane for the ray transfer test. M = 1 m radius
of curvature mirror, G = diffraction grating and S = screen. Grey lines represent input rays.







-0.4 -0.2 0.0 0.2 0.4
-0.4
-0.2
0.0
0.2
0.4
nm


O
r
t
h
o
g
o
n
a
l

d
i
s
p
l
a
c
e
m
e
n
t

(
c
e
n
t
i
m
e
t
r
e
s
)
Displacement in dispersion direction (centimetres)
720.0
752.0
784.0
816.0
848.0
880.0

Figure 4.4 Image of a nine-by-nine grid of beams diffracted from a diffraction grating via a 1 m
radius of curvature concave mirror placed 1 m away from the grating onto a screen placed at
the centre of the grating.
Rays traced in the plane of dispersion exhibit defocusing. The source of the ray bundles
is a diffraction grating tilted at an angle of 33 to the x-y plane in the x plane. The only ray
bundle that is imaged to itself is the one emitted from point A in Figure 4.3. All other ray
bundles are emitted from behind or in front of the screen S. Figure 4.3 shows how a ray bundle
emitted from a point behind the screen is focused in front of the screen and therefore the image

Modelling results

105
is spread laterally (middle right image in Figure 4.4). The ray bundle emitted from the opposite
side of the grating is imaged behind the screen and so the image is spread in the opposite
direction (middle left image in Figure 4.4).
Rays traced in the plane orthogonal to the dispersive plane suffer spherical aberration
(vertical columns of circles). The aberration manifests itself as a slight vertical smearing of
the image which gets worse the further the rays are from the plane of dispersion. The effect is
most noticeable on the rays traced at the extremes of the dispersive plane (top right, bottom
right, top left and bottom left ray bundles).
4.1.4. Surface imperfections
This section details the performance of the surface imperfection part of the code
described in section 3.2.4. The two ways in which surfaces are perturbed control the
recompressed pulse in different ways. The first surface perturbation comprises a low spatial
frequency variation across the optic (with a period of order of 20 cm). In order that a surface is
perturbed in the same way every time a ray strikes the same point, a map is made of the detailed
surface shape. To save computer memory, the map has dimensions 20 cm by 20 cm and is
folded over to form a 40 cm square (optic size limit of the code). The low spatial frequency
surface variations must therefore be described by an even function so as not to produce
discontinuities along the fold lines. The effect of these perturbations is to broaden the
recompressed pulse and they have little effect on the pulse contrast.
The high spatial frequency (period of order of 100m) perturbations are superimposed
on this map to simulate small-scale surface roughness. The perturbations are calculated by
adding a random shift to the surface (pistoning, section 3.2.4) proportional to the surface figure
description, /n (where n is an integer). The overall effect of these perturbations is to add a
pedestal in the wings of the stretched and recompressed pulse, and has little effect on the
recompressed pulse duration.
The exact choice of fast and slow spatial frequencies and the ratio of their relative
magnitudes have been chosen to attempt to represent the effect of realistically imperfect optics.
In a paper by Antonetti et al [Antonetti 97], figure 3 shows a graph of recompressed pulse
profile (obtained through second order autocorrelation) for different surface figures of the large
optic in the stretcher described in their paper. This graph is reproduced in Figure 4.5 (left hand
graph). Although this graph cannot possibly be reproduced exactly (as the exact small-scale
shape of the optic is unknown), it has been matched relatively closely given the limitations of
the imperfect surface description of the code. The right hand graph of Figure 4.5 shows the
result of the code for three surface figures of the large optic in the Antonetti et al stretcher
design.

Modelling results

106
The aim was to get an overall match between the code and the paper results in terms of
pulse duration and contrast. The paper result for the /2 optic shows considerable pulse
broadening and wings at the 410
-2
level. The code result shows a little additional broadening
compared to measurement, but the wings are about the right level. The paper result for /10
optic shows also considerable broadening and wings at the 310
-3
level. The code result shows
an underestimate of the broadening and level of the wings. Both the paper and code results
show good agreement for the /40 optic, the profile from the paper seems to be limited by the
autocorrelation measurement. Although not a perfect match, the surface imperfection section of
the code provides a reasonable measure by which the effect of imperfect optics can be
estimated.









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Figure 4.5 Comparison of calculated recompressed pulse profiles of a 30 fs pulse stretcher and
those measured by Cheriaux et al [Cheriaux 96]. The left hand graph shows the results
presented in the paper by Antonetti et al and the right hand graph shows the results of the
chirped pulse amplification model for three different surface figures of the large stretcher optic.
4.2. Systems modelled in detail
Many different systems were considered when deciding the design of the stretcher for
the upgrade of the Blackett laboratory laser consortium titanium doped sapphire chirped pulse
amplification laser system. Amongst these are a system designed by Lemoff et al [Lemoff 93]
that uses cylindrical mirrors to stretch 20 fs pulses to 300 ps (similar to a design by Du et al [Du
95], Figure 4.6a). The advantage of this design is that it has aberration compensation that
delivers 25 fs recompressed pulses after amplification to 125 mJ. Disadvantages include the use
of (expensive) cylindrical mirrors, the use of two diffraction gratings that increases cost and that
the whole system is reportedly very sensitive to alignment. Another system considered was
designed by Zhou et al [Zhou 95] consisting of a folded all-reflective version of the original

Modelling results

107
Martinez [Martinez 87a] design (Figure 4.6b). This system stretches 10 fs pulses to around
45 ps using a single spherical concave mirror and a low dispersion (600 lines/mm) grating. An
advantage of this design is its simplicity, the major disadvantage is the limited stretch factor it
offers. Finally (for the purposes of this discussion) a system designed by Itatani et al [Itatani
97] that uses a concave and convex mirror pair with two diffraction gratings, stretching 21 fs
pulses to 330 ps (Figure 4.6c). Advantages include the large stretch factor and aberration
compensation offered by the mirror pair. Disadvantages include difficulty of alignment
associated with having two diffraction gratings. There are many other designs not discussed
here that were also considered. The ones mentioned here represent a sample significant because
of their substantially different designs.
a
c
b

Figure 4.6 Stretcher schematics designed by: (a) Lemoff et al; (b) Zhou et al and (c) Itatani et
al. Orange lines represent diffraction gratings, cyan lines represent mirrors and grey lines
represent input/output paths.
Described in the following sections are two systems that show the extremes of
complexity of stretcher design. The Livermore design is a very well folded, reflective version
of the standard Martinez design. The ffner triplet based design is aberration free in the zero
stretch position and consequently has low overall aberrations when used to stretch a pulse by a
factor of 10,000.
4.2.1. Livermore system
4.2.1.1. Livermore system specification
Figure 4.7d shows a schematic of the Livermore stretcher designed by P.S.Banks
[Banks 97]. The design is based around a well folded version of the standard two lens, unit
magnification telescope stretcher of Martinez [Martinez 87a]. The key to this compact stretcher

Modelling results

108
design is the diffraction grating which has a mirror strip across its centre. Figure 4.7 shows how
the stretcher is folded from the familiar Martinez lens design.
The first fold is made by replacing the lenses with concave mirrors (ab) this step is
essential to remove the chromatic aberration associated with refractive optics. The second fold
uses the mirror strip across the centre of the diffraction grating (bc). Input rays strike the
grating above the central mirror strip and are diffracted towards the concave mirror. The rays
are then reflected down towards the centre of the grating hitting the mirror strip. The next step
folds the whole system in two (cd). The rays from the grating mirror now strike the folding
mirror and back onto the grating mirror, back to the bottom of the concave mirror and onto the
diffraction grating again. At this point the beam is spatially dispersed and so is retroreflected
back through the system removing the dispersion and doubling the stretch factor. This design
stretches 30 fs pulses to approximately 600 ps, a stretch factor of ~20,000.
b
a
c
d

Figure 4.7 Schematics of the Livermore stretcher as it is folded abcd from the standard
Martinez configuration (a). Orange lines represent diffraction gratings, cyan lines represent
mirrors and grey lines represent input/output paths.
The concave mirror has a radius of curvature of 226 cm (focal length = 113 cm). The
diffraction gratings are produced in-house and have a ruling density is 1480 lines/mm. This

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109
system offers a compact design and large stretch factor at the expense of requiring a highly
customised diffraction grating.
4.2.1.2. Livermore system performance
Although very well folded, the Livermore stretcher design represents only a first
iteration away from chromatically aberrated refractive optics to reflective optics. As such, there
is no attempt at aberration compensation in the stretcher design and consequently, there is a
mismatch between this and its corresponding compressor. Figure 4.8 shows the calculated
profile of a 30 fs pulse stretched to 600 ps in a Livermore-style stretcher and recompressed with
a grating pair.






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Figure 4.8 Calculated profile of a pulse stretched using a Livermore-style stretcher. Blue curve
shows 30 fs input pulse and red curve shows stretched and recompressed pulse profile.
Above the 310
-2
level, the recompressed pulse represents well the input pulse being
only slightly longer at 36.8 fs. Below this, the profile has a rather unsatisfactory shape with
extensive structure. This is due to high order phase differences between the stretcher and
compressor. Table 4.1 details the differences between second, third, fourth and fifth order
spectral phase contributions of the stretcher and compressor.


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110

2
nd
order (fs
2
) 3
rd
order (fs
3
) 4
th
order (fs
4
) 5
th
order (fs
5
)
Stretcher 2.61610
7
-5.51510
7
1.45710
8
-4.06710
8

Compressor -2.61610
7
5.50810
7
-1.48910
8
4.34610
8

Residual 6.00010
3
-7.72110
4
-3.19010
6
3.67710
7

Table 4.1 Differences between second, third, fourth and fifth order phase contributions of the
Livermore stretcher and corresponding compressor. Calculated using the code.
The residual second order phase is relatively small and is the reason for the small
increase in overall pulse duration. In addition, the relatively small third order residual phase
results in a slight asymmetry in the profile and makes a small contribution to the ringing
nature of the wings of the output pulse. The large fourth order residual phase contribution
results in the large peaks either side of the main peak and the fifth order residual phase gives the
main contribution to the ringing in the wings.
This stretcher design is suitable for longer pulses (i.e. > ~80 fs), but the high order
residual phase makes it unsuitable for very short pulses without the addition of external phase
compensation.
4.2.2. ffner triplet system
4.2.2.1. ffner triplet system specification
This stretcher is designed around an imaging system based on the ffner triplet [ffner
71]. The concave and convex mirrors are placed so that their common centre of curvature lies
250 mm to the left of the diffraction grating (see Figure 4.9). The radius of curvature of the
small convex mirror is half that of the large concave mirror (512 mm and 1024 mm
respectively). The ffner triplet is aberration free for the position of common centre of
curvature (point C in Figure 4.12a). An image of this point is stigmatic but, deviations exhibit
spherical aberration and astigmatism. The grating is moved 250 mm away from this point in
order to give a non zero stretch factor (the image of the grating is 250 mm to the left of the
common centre of curvature giving an effective grating separation of 500 mm). A stretch
factor of 10,000 is achieved by double passing the whole system (system double pass mirror in
Figure 4.9) giving an effective grating separation of 1000 mm. The double pass mirror in the
figure removes the spatial dispersion added by a single pass of the stretcher (see section 1.3,
Figure 1.9 and figure 1.10 for illustration of spatial dispersion). The stretcher is described in
full in a paper by Cheriaux et al [Cheriaux 96] also in [Curley 96] and [Antonetti 97].

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111
Diffraction
Grating
System Double
Pass Mirror
Double Pass
Mirror
Convex
Mirror
Concave
Mirror

Figure 4.9 Schematic of the ffner triplet based stretcher design of Antonetti et al [Cheriaux
96]. Input and output is between two mirrors of System double pass mirror retroreflector.
The diffraction grating has a ruling density of 1200 lines/mm. This system offers a
large stretch factor and low aberrations, faithfully producing 33 fs pulses from 30 fs seed pulses
after compression and in the absence of the material dispersion of an amplifier chain.
4.2.2.2. ffner triplet system performance
The ffner triplet based stretcher has a high level of aberration compensation and
consequently, matches its corresponding compressor very well. The ffner triplet based
imaging system is only aberration free at the null stretch position (250 mm left of the diffraction
grating in Figure 4.9 and point C in Figure 4.12a). Small amounts of spherical aberration and
astigmatism are thus introduced when the grating is moved away from the null stretch position
to give the stretch factor of 10,000. The effect of these aberrations is apparent when comparing
the input (black curve) and output (blue curve) pulse profiles in Figure 4.10.
At the 110
-2
level, the output profile starts to depart from the input pulse profile. At
the 410
-5
level, wing structure starts to appear due to mismatches in fourth order dispersion.
Below the level shown in the graph, departures from the input pulse profile are shown by
ringing caused by mismatches in fifth (and higher) order dispersion.

Modelling results

112

Figure 4.10 Comparison of 30 fs input pulse profile (black curve), output pulse profile from an
ffner triplet based stretcher with perfectly flat optics (blue curve) and the output pulse profile
from an ffner triplet based stretcher with realistic surface figures (red curve). Calculated
using the code. Inset shows figure 2 from [Antonetti 97] showing independent calculations for
blue curve.
In order to achieve this performance, the quality of the optics used must be carefully
optimised. Figure 4.5 shows experimental output pulse profiles for the ffner stretcher with
varying surface quality of the large concave mirror. As the quality of this optic increases, so
does the quality of the output pulse profile in terms of duration and contrast. The quality
(surface figure) of each of the surfaces in the ffner stretcher are summarised in Table 4.2.
These surface figures were used to calculate the effect of surface figure on the performance of
the ffner stretcher shown by the red curve in Figure 4.10.

Surface Flatness
Diffraction grating /10
Concave mirror /40
Convex mirror /20
Double pass mirror /20*
System double pass mirror /20*
Table 4.2 Summary of surface specifications of ffner triplet based stretcher optics.
(* = flatness estimated due to lack of information in [Antonetti 97]).
Figure 4.11 shows the residual phase of a 30 fs pulse after passing through an ffner
stretcher (stretching to 300 ps) and corresponding compressor. The blue curve represents the
phase calculated for perfectly flat optics and the red curve represents the phase for imperfect
optics with flatnesses summarised in Table 4.2. In the spectral window shown in Figure 4.11
(745 nm to 812 nm), the residual phase using perfect optics deviates from zero by 0.26 radians.

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The effect of the imperfect optics is superimposed on top of this and is characterised by a
maximum deviation of 0.65 radians. Across the full spectral window of the stretcher (731 nm
to 825 nm, limited by the size of the optics in the plane of dispersion) the residual phase
deviates from zero by 1.18 radians.






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Figure 4.11 Calculated residual phase of a 30 fs pulse after passing through an ffner triplet
based stretcher and corresponding compressor, with perfect optics (blue curve) and with optics
having non-zero surface figure (red curve). Calculated using the code.
This stretcher design works very well - it stretches 30 fs pulses by a factor 10,000 and is
well matched to its corresponding compressor, which produces pulses stretched by only 10%
from the original pulse duration. The limiting factor in the fidelity of the output pulses is the
flatness of the stretcher optics. In order to keep the aberrations low, the stretcher is double
passed to achieve the required stretch factor. This has the disadvantage that all surfaces are
struck twice as many times, which increases the minimum required surface figure by a factor of
two. Consequently, the large concave optic in the stretcher has a surface figure of /40.
Unfortunately, optic price does not increase linearly with surface figure; a /40 optic is roughly
six times more expensive than a /20 optic (price comparison from REOSC [REOSC]). The
performance of this stretcher comes at a significant price.
4.3. Reflective doublet system
In an effort to design a stretcher that performs as well, if not better than the ffner
based system but without the expensive high figure mirror, a stretcher based on a reflective
doublet was devised. In papers by Sullivan et al ([Sullivan 95] and [Sullivan 96]), a (refractive)

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114
doublet replaces the lens of the telescope in a standard Martinez style stretcher. This doublet
can be adjusted to minimise the high order phase mismatches between the stretcher and
compressor. The idea behind using a reflective doublet to form the telescope is that chromatic
aberrations are removed immediately (the case for all sub 50 fs stretchers) and the
characteristics of the doublet can be arranged so the grating lies at the aberration free position
(point G in Figure 4.12b).
x
C/N
M1
G GI
M2
(a)
M1
G
M2
M3
GI
(b)
x
N

Figure 4.12 Schematics of two stretchers: (a) the ffner triplet based and (b) doublet based.
Definitions: M = Mirror, G = Grating, GI = Grating Image, C = Centre of curvature and
N = the null stretch position. Grey lines represent input/output paths.
Figure 4.12(a) shows a schematic of the ffner stretcher with point C representing the
centre of radius of curvature of the two curved mirrors. It is this point (the null stretch position)
that offers aberration free operation of the ffner triplet imaging system. Figure 4.12(b) shows
a schematic of a doublet based stretcher that is designed to be virtually aberration free at point
G, the position of the grating. This is achieved by careful choice of the radius of curvature and
positions of the concave and convex mirrors (M1 and M2 in Figure 4.12(b)) and the position of
the flat mirror, M3. Figure 4.13 shows a three-dimensional schematic of the reflective doublet
based stretcher design. Comparing this design to the Martinez stretcher in Figure 4.7a, the flat
mirror represents the fold between the two lenses, the convex and concave mirrors form the
reflective doublet that replaces the two lenses and the double pass mirror retroreflects the
spatially dispersed beam after diffraction off the second grating.
The requirement for the stretcher is that it should stretch 35 fs pulses to at least 300 ps.
A suitable compressor that can compensate for this stretch factor using the guidelines in section
3.1.1 for a central wavelength of 780 nm can also be designed. This gives the required effective
grating separation, grating angle and input angle.

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Diffraction
Grating
Double Pass
Mirror
Convex
Mirror
Flat
Mirror
Concave
Mirror

Figure 4.13 Three-dimensional schematic of the reflective doublet based stretcher design. Input
and output is via the single ray at the top of the diffraction grating.
4.3.1. Reflective doublet specification
The first stage of deciding the parameters of the doublet is to find a set of radii of
curvature for the two curved mirrors and their rough positions and the position of the flat mirror
so that parallel rays emerging from the left (Figure 4.12(b)) are focused to a point between the
two curved mirrors. This point is the position of the flat mirror and should be in front of the
concave mirror. If this was not the case, the large mirror would have to allow rays to pass
through its middle.
The second stage is to move the grating away from the null stretch position towards the
three mirrors to give the required stretch factor. The positions of the convex and flat mirror are
then adjusted to make sure all the rays of differing wavelength that leave the grating arrive back
at the grating with exactly the same angle. In other words, the grating has a perfect image
behind the null stretch position (at point GI in Figure 4.12(b)). The effective grating separation
is given by the negative of the distance between the position of the grating and its image (see
section 1.3, Figure 1.10).
The final step is to use the code to find out how the design performs. This process is
iterated until a satisfactory performance is achieved. Figure 4.14 summarises the final
parameters of the doublet stretcher after a total of 99 iterations.
The radius of curvature of the concave mirror (1175 mm) was chosen as a value that the
suppliers (Optical Surfaces [Optical Surfaces]) could provide easily (flatness /20). The small
convex mirror was also supplied by Optical Surfaces and has a flatness of /20; both have a
protected gold coating on the appropriate surfaces. The flat mirror and mirror used to
retroreflect the spatially dispersed beam back for a second pass of the stretcher both have
flatnesses of /10. The small flat mirror is made from ZERODUR

[HV Skan], polished by


Martin Horton [Horton] in the Blackett Laboratory optics section workshop and coated with
protected gold by Coherent Optics Europe [Coherent OE]. The (replicated) diffraction grating

Modelling results

116
was supplied by Milton Roy/Richardson [Richardson] and has a flatness of ~ /10. The sizes of
the optics were chosen to allow a bandpass of 66.6 nm a compromise between maximum
bandwidth and minimum cost.
d = 1200 l/mm
w = 110 mm
= 33
0
= 23
roc = -1000 mm
w = 100 mm
egs = -1142 mm
w = 90 mm
roc = 1175 mm
= 200 mm
693.82 mm
978.37 mm
1100.00 mm

Figure 4.14 Detailed schematic of final doublet stretcher specifications. roc = radius of
curvature, egs = effective grating separation, d = grating constant, w = width of optic and
= diameter of optic. In order to separate input and output beams, the input beam is vertically
displaced by 25 mm away from the optical axis of the stretcher.
4.3.2. Reflective doublet performance
The reflective doublet based stretcher has a high level of aberration compensation
designed around the position of the diffraction grating. This means there is no compromise
made by moving away from an aberration free null stretch position as there is with the ffner
based stretcher. If the grating of the doublet stretcher were placed at the null stretch position
(point N in Figure 4.12b), the image of this point would exhibit spherical aberration and
astigmatism as the ffner stretcher does at the grating position. Figure 4.15 shows a
comparison between the stretched and recompressed pulse profile (blue curve) and a 30 fs input
pulse (black curve).
The output pulse matches the input pulse very well, down to the 110
-3
level. Below
this there is a little evidence for a third order phase mismatch between the stretcher and
compressor, but the ringing is mostly dominated by spectral clipping. The spectral clipping is
due to the finite size of the optics coupled with a small beam size (see section 2.2.1.3). A
comparison with the results of the ffner stretcher in Figure 4.10 highlights a significant
difference between the performances of the stretchers in terms of pulse contrast. The two
stretchers use similarly sized optics (especially the grating and large concave mirror). The
reason for the difference is that a single pass of the ffner stretcher gives a stretch of only 5,000
times because the diffraction grating is angled such that the bandwidth of the pulse is not
stretched so much across the optics. The doublet stretcher however, attains a stretch factor of

Modelling results

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10,000 in a single pass and so the grating must disperse more across the optics. As a result, the
clipping is more severe and ringing appears in the wings of the pulse.






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Figure 4.15 Comparison of 30 fs input pulse profile (black curve), output pulse profile from a
reflective doublet based stretcher with perfectly flat optics (blue curve) and the output pulse
profile from a reflective doublet based stretcher with realistic surface figures (red curve).
Calculated using the code.
The effect of this ringing is balanced by the fact that the contrast of the pulse is limited
by the effects of optic surface quality. The red curve of Figure 4.15 shows the output pulse
profile of a 30 fs pulse stretched by a doublet stretcher with imperfect optics to 300 ps and
recompressed with a corresponding compressor. The optical figure of each surface is described
in section 4.3.1. Even though the doublet stretcher uses at best /20 optics, it performs as well
as the ffner stretcher with a /40 optic. The performance of the ffner stretcher below the
level imposed by imperfect optics is superior to the doublet stretcher. If the size of the optics
were increased to accommodate more bandwidth, the performance of the doublet stretcher
would exceed that of the ffner stretcher. This is born out in Figure 4.16 which shows the
residual phase calculated for a 30 fs pulse after passing through a doublet stretcher (stretched to
300 ps) and corresponding compressor.
The blue curve shows the residual phase using a stretcher with perfect optics and the red
curve shows the phase with non-perfect optics. The spectral window shown in the figure
represents the bandpass of the stretcher (745 nm to 812 nm) and the residual phase using perfect
optics deviates from zero by a maximum of 0.03 radians across this range. The effect of non-
perfect optics has the same overall effect as for the ffner stretcher (compare with Figure 4.11).
The residual phase after recompression for the doublet stretcher is a factor of 8.7 times smaller
than that from the ffner stretcher. This illustrates the difference between the two stretcher

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designs; the doublet stretcher is designed to be virtually aberration free for the position of the
grating not the centre of radius of curvature of the two curved mirrors, as is the case for the
ffner stretcher.






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Figure 4.16 Calculated residual phase of a 30 fs pulse after passing through a reflective doublet
based stretcher and corresponding compressor, with perfect optics (blue curve) and with optics
having non-zero surface figure (red curve). Calculated using the code.
4.4. Additional modelling
In addition to the modelling done specifically for the design of a stretcher compressor
system for the Blackett Laboratory Laser Consortium, the code has been used to aid the choice
of stretcher for the upgrade of the ASTRA and VULCAN lasers at the Rutherford Appleton
Laboratory. This section describes how the code described in chapter 3 facilitated this choice
for the ASTRA laser (adapted from a report written for the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in
February 1999). Reproduced by kind permission of the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory.
4.4.1. Introduction
The ASTRA laser at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory is a high power, short pulse
titanium doped sapphire laser which services a broad base of United Kingdom users. The
stretcher must expand 30 fs pulses to at least 600 ps for safe and efficient amplification in the
ASTRA amplifier chain, due to the large gain factors these amplifiers provide. A corresponding
pulse compressor must be designed to restore the pulses as close as possible to their original
pulse duration with minimum wings. Here, wings are defined as those that arise from

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119
incomplete recompression of the pulse, not from Amplified Spontaneous Emission in the
amplifier chain. Incomplete recompression leaves the pulse with residual high order phase
components due to aberrations in the stretcher. The stretcher needs to impart phase on the input
pulse that exactly opposes that imparted by the compressor to at least fourth order to obtain
clean laser pulses for use in interaction experiments.
There are three designs under consideration, all based around a reflective variation
of the standard Martinez style stretcher [Martinez 87a]. The three systems being considered are
as follows:
A system devised by the author, used at Imperial College on the titanium doped sapphire
chirped pulse amplification laser system in the Blackett Laboratory Laser Consortium.
This design is based around the idea of using a positive and negative curved mirror to
make a reflective doublet. The radii of curvature of the two mirrors and their relative
positions can be chosen to make the imaging system aberration free for any given
diffraction grating position. The detailed specifications of the stretcher used at Imperial
College is given in chapter 4.3.
A system devised by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, described in
the Ph.D. thesis of Paul Stuart Banks (see chapter 4.2.1). This design is an all-reflective
and well-folded version of the standard Martinez-Style stretcher. The clever part of the
design is the use of a reflective strip across the centre of the diffraction grating an optic
only available from the Livermore laboratory. This system is not aberration free, it is
simply a direct replacement of the lens in a standard stretcher with a spherical mirror.
A system based on a design by Ian Ross at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. This
design uses a single spherical mirror and two diffraction gratings. Although the
introduction of a second diffraction grating means there is an extra degree of difficulty in
alignment, the system is aberration free for a point, on-axis, at the centre of the radius of
curvature of the spherical mirror.
Each system will be compared by inputting a 30 fs pulse into the stretcher to give a stretched
pulse of around 600 ps. The pulse is then recompressed with a corresponding compressor and
the relative performances compared by looking at recompressed pulse profiles. All comparisons
are done using the model described in chapter 3.
4.4.2. Extra modelling results
For a given input pulse duration, the central wavelength (800 nm) and bandwidth are
constant for the systems being considered and the grating ruling density is 1480
lines/millimetre. It can be seen from equation 3.1 that this leaves only the input angle and the
grating separation to adjust in order to give the required stretched pulse duration of 600 ps. The

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input angle should be chosen such that the grating is used as close to Littrow configuration as
possible (so as to give efficient diffraction). This angle should also be large enough so that the
dispersed beam from the second grating misses the edge of the first grating (taking into account
the fact that the gratings must be held in a finite sized mount). The distance between the
gratings can then be chosen to give the required stretch duration.
4.4.2.1. Adapted reflective doublet design
A schematic of the doublet-based design is shown in Figure 4.13. The important
parameters to adjust with this system are the radius of curvature of the convex and concave
mirrors, their separation, their distance from the diffraction grating and the position of the flat
mirror. These are adjusted to try to produce an aberration free system for rays originating from
the diffraction grating.
The doublet design is similar to a stretcher based on an ffner triplet used at ENSTA,
Paris [Cheriaux 96]. In this stretcher, two curved mirrors are chosen to make a reflective triplet
imaging system (one mirror being used twice), which images the null-stretch position of the
stretcher without aberration. A stretch is achieved by moving the diffraction grating away from
the null-stretch position towards the triplet mirrors. Twice the distance from the grating to the
null-stretch position is the effective grating separation (negative). The problem with this
method is that as the grating is moved away from the null-stretch position, it is also moved
away from the aberration-free imaging regime. The idea behind the doublet design is that the
curved mirrors are chosen such that the grating is at the aberration-free position.
After a lot of perseverance with this design, a combination of parameters could not be
found that would give satisfactory recompression. The reason for this is probably the large
stretch factor required. In order to have a large stretch factor, the null stretch position needs to
be far behind the diffraction grating to give a large effective grating separation. A combination
of mirror radius of curvature and separations could not be found to give an aberration free
system. The designs that came closest to working involved putting the flat folding mirror
behind the large concave mirror, which is unphysical. An example of one of the best
recompressed pulse profiles is shown in Figure 4.17.

Modelling results

121





-400 -300 -200 -100 0 100 200 300 400
1E-4
1E-3
0.01
0.1
1

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Figure 4.17 Input 30 fs pulse profile (black curve) and recompressed pulse profile (red curve)
for the doublet stretcher. The input pulse was stretched to 600 ps and the recompressed full
width half maximum pulse duration of 55.7 fs.
4.4.2.2. Adapted Livermore design
A schematic of the Livermore design is shown in Figure 4.7. This design is a very
cleverly folded version of the original Martinez-Style stretcher. It uses a concave spherical
mirror to replace the lens and a horizontal mirror strip across the centre of the diffraction grating
to further fold the design. The construction of the stretcher is detailed in section 4.2.1.
Although cleverly folded, this design offers nothing in the way of aberration compensation.
The system does however perform fairly well for what it was designed for: a final pulse
duration of 30 femtoseconds and a stretched pulse duration of 300 picoseconds. Because of the
aberrations added by the stretcher, the input pulse duration must be shorter than the final output
duration.
The Livermore design was adjusted to give a stretched pulse duration of 600
picoseconds by changing the position and radius of curvature of the concave mirror. This
moves the null-stretch position further behind the diffraction grating, thus increasing the
effective grating separation. As with the doublet design, a system could not be found which
would give satisfactory recompression. Systems that came close to working had shorter radius
of curvature mirrors. Figure 3.2.2 shows how the radius of curvature of the concave mirror
affects the recompressed pulse profile.

Modelling results

122





-400 -300 -200 -100 0 100 200 300 400
1E-4
1E-3
0.01
0.1
1

f=4.00 m
f=3.00 m
f=1.25 m
input = 30 fs
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Figure 4.18 Input 30 fs pulse profile (black curve) and recompressed pulse profiles (green, red
and blue curves) for the Livermore stretcher. The input pulse was stretched to 600 ps. The
recompressed pulse duration and wing level changes as the focal length of the curved mirror is
changed.
4.4.2.3. Adapted Ross design
A schematic of the Ross stretcher design is shown in. This system has been designed so
that the centre of the first diffraction grating is at the centre of curvature of the concave mirror.
This means that, as long as small beams are used, the imaging system is aberration free. One
disadvantage of this design is the fact that, unlike the other designs, two diffraction gratings are
used making it more difficult to align (the two gratings have to be exactly parallel). This may
be balanced by the fact that there are fewer optical components overall to align. The beam
diffracted from the second grating is horizontally dispersed and so the stretcher is double passed
such that the output beam travels collinearly with, but in the opposite direction to the input
beam.
The original design for this stretcher stretched 30 femtosecond pulses to 300
picoseconds. A stretch to 600 picoseconds can be achieved in two ways: by double-double
passing the stretcher; or by doubling the radius of curvature of the concave mirror and moving it
twice as far away from the first grating.

Modelling results

123
First
Grating
Second
Grating
Concave
Mirror
Input Output

Figure 4.19 Schematic of the Ross stretcher design. Orange lines represent the two diffraction
gratings and the grey line represents the input beam path. The first grating need not be as large
as shown it needs only to be large enough to accommodate the input beam.
The first method has the advantage that the optics are kept small this is important as
usually the price of optics goes up disproportionately with size. The main disadvantage is that
the beam reflects or diffracts off each optical surface twice as many times as in single pass
configuration. This is important because it means the optics used have to be twice as flat as
they would normally be. Figure 4.20a shows how the recompressed pulse profile changes as a
function of surface flatness (excluding grating flatness).
The second method has the opposite advantages and disadvantages as the first method.
The optics are twice as big, making them more expensive, but the surfaces need only be half as
flat for the same performance. Figure 4.20b shows how the recompressed pulse profile changes
as a function of surface flatness (excluding grating flatness).





-400 -300 -200 -100 0 100 200 300 400
1E-6
1E-5
1E-4
1E-3
0.01
0.1
1
(a)

Input 30 fs
/20
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-400 -300 -200 -100 0 100 200 300 400
1E-6
1E-5
1E-4
1E-3
0.01
0.1
1
(b)

Input 30 fs
/20
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/5
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Figure 4.20 Input 30 fs pulse profiles (black curves) and output profiles (red, green and blue)
for (a) double-double pass and (b) double-size Ross stretcher designs. Different coloured
curves show how the output pulse profile changes as a function of optic surface flatness.
Whichever of these two options are chosen, the correct beam diameter must also be
chosen. The beam has to be large enough so that, as it propagates through the stretcher (whose
total path length can be several metres) it does not increase in size too much due to diffraction.
Conversely, as the beam size is increased, the edges of it move away from the ideal imaging
conditions that are offered at the centre of curvature of the concave mirror, increasing the

Modelling results

124
overall recompressed pulse duration. Figure 4.21 shows how the full width half maximum
diameter of the input beam affects the recompressed pulse profile for (a) the double-double pass
design and (b) the double size design.






-400 -300 -200 -100 0 100 200 300 400
1E-6
1E-5
1E-4
1E-3
0.01
0.1
1
(a)

Input 30 fs
0.50 mm
1.00 mm
2.00 mm
3.00 mm
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-400 -300 -200 -100 0 100 200 300 400
1E-6
1E-5
1E-4
1E-3
0.01
0.1
1
(b)
Original 30 fs
0.50 mm
1.00 mm
2.00 mm
3.00 mm
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Figure 4.21 Input 30 fs pulse profiles (black curves) and output profiles (red, green, blue and
magenta) for (a) double-double pass and (b) double-size Ross stretcher designs. Different
coloured curves show how the output pulse profile changes as a function of input beam full
width half maximum diameter.
4.4.3. Extra modelling conclusions
It is clear from the results of the three stretcher designs that to produce a stretched pulse
duration of 600 ps, the adapted Ross stretcher must be used. The other two designs work well
for producing a stretched pulse duration of ~300 ps, for which they were originally designed,
but they cannot easily be adapted for use on the ASTRA laser.
Having chosen to go with the Ross design, the method of adaptation of the original
design must be chosen. Considering the double-double pass design, there seems little penalty in
choosing this method over the double size design in terms of surface flatness requirements (see
Figure 4.20). The model does not include, however, the diffraction grating flatness. This is
generally poor (less than /10) and there are twice as many passes in the double-double pass
design than for the double size design, making the former perform less well. It is clear though
from Figure 4.21 that the double size design is more tolerant of large beams making it easier to
implement. This is because the radius of curvature of the concave mirror in the double-size
design is twice as large as in the double-double pass design. The double-size stretcher should
perform the same as the double-double pass stretcher with a beam approximately half the size.
This is analogous to the fact that the beam waist size approximately doubles when the focal
length of the focusing optic is doubled.
Overall, although it is more expensive, it seems logical to choose the double size design
in terms of system performance. This was the recommendation to the Rutherford Appleton
Laboratory as a result of this ray-tracing modelling.

Modelling results

125
4.5. Summary
Several stretcher designs have been considered in an effort to find a system that
performs as required with the limited resources available for this project. The best of the
systems described in the literature is the reflective stretcher based on an ffner triplet. This
system is reported to be aberration-free, but only when it does not stretch an input pulse (null-
stretch configuration. With inspiration from the air-spaced refractive doublet based stretcher
designed by Sullivan et al, a reflective version was designed that is virtually aberration-free at
the configuration that gives a stretch factor of ~10,000. The next chapter describes the
construction of this stretcher and its integration into the Blackett Laboratory Laser Consortium
titanium-doped sapphire chirped pulse amplification laser system.
5. System implementation and
characterisation
In this chapter, the results of the modelling described in section 4.3 are put into practice.
In addition, the upgrade of the Blackett Laboratory Laser Consortium titanium-doped sapphire
chirped pulse amplification laser system described in section 1.5 is discussed. The only stages
of the old system to remain in place after the upgrade are the regenerative and power amplifiers.
The upgrade of these amplifiers is discussed in terms of accommodating the large bandwidth
associated with ultra-short pulses and an increase in the overall gain of the system. An
additional increase in total amplification is also achieved by adding an extra gain stage (pre-
amplifier) that uses a portion of the energy left over from pumping the regenerative amplifier.
The characteristics of each of these amplification stages are then presented. The replacement of
the oscillator and newly designed stretcher and compressor for ultrashort pulse operation is
discussed. The performance of each of these three components compared to their design
specification is presented. Finally, the integration of each stage into a complete system is
discussed including performance characteristics.
5.1. Short pulse oscillator upgrade
The oscillator of the original Blackett Laboratory titanium-doped sapphire laser system
was built and developed in house (see section 1.5). Its replacement is a kit laser from the
Murnane and Kapteyn laboratories [Oscillator]. The new oscillator is capable of delivering
pulses as short as 20 fs centred in the region of 800 nm. It achieves this by having a thin but
highly doped crystal that gives high gain without excessive material dispersion. The material
dispersion is further controlled by the use of a pair of fused silica prisms (Figure 5.1). See
section 1.2.1 for a discussion of Kerr-lens mode-locked oscillators.
The pump source for the old oscillator was a mainframe argon ion laser [Coherent]. In
order to extract the most power from this laser, it was used on all visible lines (in the blue to
green part of the spectrum). Although this is an efficient mode of operation for the argon ion
laser, not all the argon lines pump titanium-doped sapphire very efficiently. Consequently, the
old oscillator required 6 W CW from the argon ion for stable operation. The pump source for
the new oscillator is a Spectra-Physics Millennia [Millennia]. This uses two diode bars, each
delivering 13 W at 809 nm to pump neodymium-doped yttrium vanadate (Nd:YV0
4
). When

System implementation and characterisation

127
frequency doubled, this produces up to 5.5 W at 532 nm, CW. The centre of the absorption
band of titanium-doped sapphire is very close to this wavelength making the Millennia an
efficient pump source.
12% Output
Coupler
Fused Silica
Prism Pair
4.75mm, 0.15% Doped
Ti:Sapphire Crystal
4.5 W
532 nm
L
M
M
RM
B
Tuning
Slit

Figure 5.1 Schematic of the Murnane and Kapteyn short pulse oscillator. RM represents the
rear cavity mirror; B represents a beam block; M represents concave mirrors with a radius of
curvature of 10 cm; and L is a lens of focal length 10.5 cm.
The oscillator cavity is relatively long (~3.36 m) and so sensitivity to alignment of the
pump beam is critical. The old argon ion laser also has a long cavity (~2.0 m) and, as the
temperature of the laboratory changes, the beam pointing changes. This makes for a very
unstable combination, one that involves frequent oscillator and pump beam alignment. The
Millennia however, has a very stable, short cavity making it perfect for pumping short-pulse
oscillators of this kind. The need for constant oscillator re-alignment is eliminated and the start-
up time is reduced by a factor of approximately six, to just half an hour.
The output of the new oscillator is an 89.4 MHz train of pulses with an average power
of approximately 400 mW (the average power depends on day-to-day alignment). This gives a
pulse energy at the beginning of the chirped pulse amplification laser system of ~9.0 nJ. The
pulses have a temporal profile approximating a Gaussian with a full-width-half-maximum
duration set to ~35 fs (therefore the single pulse average power is 0.26 MW). Figure 5.2 shows
a second-order single-shot autocorrelation of these pulses (see section 1.2.2.2 for a description
of autocorrelation methods). The autocorrelation shows a duration of 37.3 fs, longer than stated
for the output of the oscillator. This measurement will be slightly longer than the duration of
the pulses emerging from the oscillator because the pulses pass through 1.4 mm of BK7 glass
(beamsplitter) before they reach a 200 m KDP crystal in the autocorrelator. This serves to
broaden the pulse prior to and during the pulse length measurement. The inset of Figure 5.2
shows the pulse profile on a logarithmic scale illustrating the near Gaussian nature of the
profile. The dynamic range of this measurement is limited, in part, by the 2.5 orders of
magnitude that the CCD camera [Pulnix] provides.

System implementation and characterisation

128





-125 -100 -75 -50 -25 0 25 50 75
0.0
0.1
0.2
0.3
0.4
0.5
0.6
0.7
0.8
0.9
1.0








37.3 fs
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Figure 5.2 Single-shot autocorrelation of pulses from the oscillator showing a duration of
37.3 fs. Inset shows the same profile on a logarithmic scale. Dynamic range limited by the
CCD camera used for the autocorrelation measurement.
Originally, the laser wavelength was centred at 780 nm (for historical reasons [Fraser
96]). The bandwidth of pulses from the old oscillator was ~8 nm compared to ~30 nm from the
new one. Most commercially available thin film anti-reflection and high reflectivity coatings
around this wavelength are centred at 800 nm (see section 2.2.1.1). When small bandwidth
pulses are used with these mirrors, only a small modification to the spectral profile occurs. The
spectral profile of large bandwidth pulses however, can be seriously compromised after many
coating encounters. For example, the spectrum of a 30 nm pulse centred at 780 nm is
preferentially reflected at longer wavelengths by a high reflectivity coating. This has the effect
of skewing the spectral profile and shifting the centre wavelength to longer wavelengths (see
section 2.2.1). For this reason the centre wavelength of the oscillator is set to ~800 nm. For
convenience, the actual centre wavelength of the oscillator is set to 801.5 nm, a prominent line
in the emission spectrum of argon used for spectrometer calibrations. Figure 5.3 shows the
spectral profile of the pulse (red curve) with the emission spectrum of argon (blue curve). The
time bandwidth product of the oscillator when the duration measurement shown in Figure 5.2
and bandwidth measurement shown in Figure 5.3 were made was 0.55 (characteristically large
for this type of short pulse oscillator).
The wavelength of the oscillator can be set by use of the tuning slit placed between the
two prisms (Figure 5.1). This only needs to be changed when the alignment of the oscillator is
changed after laser servicing or alignment creep over long periods of time. The bandwidth of
the pulses can be changed by a combination of the positions of the two prisms (into and out of
the cavity beam) and the width of the tuning slit).

System implementation and characterisation

129






760 770 780 790 800 810 820 830 840
0.0
0.1
0.2
0.3
0.4
0.5
0.6
0.7
0.8
0.9
1.0
31.1 nm

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Figure 5.3 Oscillator pulse spectrum showing a bandwidth of 31.1 nm (red curve). Blue curve
shows the spectrum of lines from an argon discharge lamp. The pulse spectrum is centred and
the spectrometer is calibrated using a strong argon line at 801.5 nm.
The beam emerging from the oscillator diverges slightly and a Newtonian telescope is
used after the oscillator to collimate the beam. The positions of the telescope lenses are
adjustable to account for changes in divergence arising from oscillator realignment.
5.2. Stretcher implementation
The design of the stretcher (described in section 4.3) is such that the convex mirror and
the small flat mirror (between the concave and convex mirrors) are required to have beams pass
above and below them. The two mirrors also need to be tilted about the mirror surface in order
to fine-tune their positions. To this end two mirror mounts were designed which project the
mirrors out into the middle of the stretcher and provide stable support. These two mounts can
be seen in Figure 5.4 marked as M2 and M3. Two brass-coloured thumb wheels are visible on
the rear of the mount for M3 these give control of the vertical and horizontal tilt of the mirror.
Alignment of the stretcher is aided by painting the optical table with engineers blue
(marking dye) and scribing the paths of crucial rays. The width of the ray path marks on the
table is ~0.2 mm. The mirrors are aligned in turn using a small beam from a laser diode and a
beam block with vertical lines scribed on one side. Beam alignment over a distance of 1 m
using this method gives an angular accuracy of 54 seconds. The two irises in Figure 5.1 allow
the stretcher input beam alignment to be checked on a day-to-day basis. The input beam is
retro-reflected by mirror M4 back along its input path. In order to allow the beam to exit the

System implementation and characterisation

130
stretcher without causing the oscillator to drop-out (due to excess feedback), the input beam is
angled up slightly so that on exit it passes just above a cut mirror placed before the first
alignment iris. This tilt represents a change in beam height of ~5 mm over a distance of ~10 m,
an angle of 0.027. It was thought that this would not impair the performance of the stretcher.

Figure 5.4 Picture of the completed stretcher with the oscillator in the foreground.
M1 = concave mirror; M2 = small flat mirror; M3 = convex mirror; M4 = double pass mirror;
G = diffraction grating; I = alignment irises; C = oscillator crystal; and P = oscillator prism.

A very sensitive test of the alignment of the stretcher is to check the spatial chirp across
the beam (in the plane of dispersion) on its exit from the stretcher. Spatial chirp arises from
misalignment of the optics causing the image of the input beam on the grating to be aberrated.
The grating imparts a spectral component to this aberration causing the wavelength to change at
different positions across the beam. The spatial chirp can be measured quite easily by rotating
the beam through 90 so that when it strikes the entrance slit of a grating spectrometer, the plane
of dispersion of the beam is in line with the slit. This measures the spectrum at each position
across the beam exiting the stretcher. Figure 5.5 shows the results of such a measurement.
The top image of Figure 5.5 shows the spatial chirp measurement for a misaligned
stretcher. The y-axis represents the distance across the beam in the plane of dispersion and the
x-axis represents the spectrum at that point. It can be seen that the spectrum on one side of the
beam is skewed towards shorter wavelengths and the spectrum on the other side is skewed
towards longer wavelengths. The bottom image of Figure 5.5 shows the spatial chirp
measurement of the stretcher after correction. This correction involved moving the flat mirror
between the two curved mirrors by less than 0.5 mm.

System implementation and characterisation

131




775 780 785 790 795 800 805 810 815 820 825 830
0
1
2
3
4
5
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Figure 5.5 Measurement of the spectrum across the beam (in the plane of dispersion) for a
misaligned stretcher (top image) and a corrected stretcher (bottom image). Red represents zero
intensity and increasing intensity is represented by orange-yellow-green-blue.
The final measurement to check that the stretcher works correctly is to find the stretched
pulse duration. To do this a fast diode [New Focus] with a rise time of ~50 ps in conjunction
with a sampling scope [Tektronix] is used. The output of the stretcher is focused onto the small
active area of the diode to make the measurement. The result on the scope is a build-up of
samples of the diode signal. An image of the trace observed is shown in Figure 5.6. There are
two important things to notice in this image. Firstly, the slight bump on the right hand side of
the trace. Because the stretcher adds a frequency dependent delay producing a chirped pulse,
the stretched pulse takes on the form of the input pulse spectral profile. The bump corresponds
to the bump on the short wavelength side of Figure 5.3. Secondly, the rise time of the diode is
approximately 50 ps; therefore, the recorded duration should at least 50 ps longer than expected.
Figure 5.6 shows a duration of ~375 ps compared to the design stretched pulse duration of
300 ps. The exact duration of the stretched pulse depends on the bandwidth of the pulses from
the oscillator so can be expected to be longer than calculated (due to excess bandwidth,
mentioned in the previous section).

System implementation and characterisation

132






-800 -600 -400 -200 0 200 400 600 800 1000 1200
-20
0
20
40
60
80
100
120
140
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i
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Figure 5.6 An image taken from the oscilloscope showing the profile of the stretched pulse.
Measured using a fast diode [New Focus] and sampling scope [Tektronix]. The diode has a
rise-time of approximately 50 ps, which has the effect of stretching the measurement.
5.3. Amplification upgrade
The upgrade of the amplification stages of the laser system falls into two main
categories. First, the adaptation of existing amplifiers to cope with the increased bandwidth of
the short pulses from the new oscillator. Secondly, an increase in the total gain of the amplifier
chain. The regenerative amplifier is the main spectrally dependent component in the
amplification system due to many passes of polarisers, Pockels cell and the gain medium. The
increase in total gain is achieved by introducing an extra pre-amplifier and using a second pump
laser in the power amplifier. The following sections describe each of the amplifiers in terms of
spectral response (in the case of the regenerative amplifier) and the gain characteristics.
5.3.1. Regenerative amplifier
The regenerative amplifier has been inherited from the old Blackett Laboratory Laser
Consortium titanium-doped sapphire system. Therefore, the design of this laser will not be
considered from scratch, only the adaptation of the design for ultra-short pulse operation.

System implementation and characterisation

133
5.3.1.1. Cavity design
As explained in section 1.4.2, regenerative amplifiers offer an efficient means of
increasing the energy of pulses for chirped pulse amplification. The amplifier is designed
around a stable laser cavity with elements for switching the seed pulse in and out (see Figure
5.7). The concave mirror (M1) has a radius of curvature of 10 m and is 1.67 m away from the
convex mirror (M2) that has a radius of curvature of 20 m. The radii of curvature of the two
mirrors are chosen to provide a large beam size in the cavity and a stable resonator design
[Kogelnik 66]. High fluences cause damage to intracavity optics, so a large beam diameter is
important. A stable resonator design is important with respect to beam pointing stability
(section 2.1.5) and energy stability (section 2.1.3).
Pockels
Cell
TFP2
Iris
Ti:Sapphire
Crystal 80mJ, 532nm
Pump
/2
I n
Out
M2
M1
TFP1
Iris

Figure 5.7 Schematic of the regenerative amplifier. TFP1, TFP2 = thin film polarisers;
M1, M2 = cavity mirrors. Titanium-doped sapphire crystal has length 20 mm and a doping
level of 0.10%.
The size of the beam waists (radius) at the two mirrors (M1, M2) is given (respectively)
by the following equations:

=
L R R
L
L R
L R R
L R R
L
L R
L R R
2 1 2
1
2
2 0 4
2
2 1 1
2
2
1 0 4
1

5.1
where
0
is the central laser wavelength (800 nm), R
1
and R
2
are the radii of curvature of mirrors
M1 and M2 respectively (metres) and L is the cavity length (metres) [Koechner 76]. The
stability condition is given by the modulus of the product of g
1
= 1-L/R
1
and g
2
= 1-L/R
2
. |g| is
dimensionless and must lie in the region:
1 0 < < g 5.2
in order for the cavity to be considered stable [Kogelnik 66]. The maximum length of the cavity
is fixed, by the amount of room on the optical table, at L=1.67 m. For the radii of curvature
stated above, the value of |g| is 0.902 giving a stable resonator. The beam diameters at mirrors
M1 and M2 are 2.49 mm and 2.18 mm respectively. If R
1
is decreased, the cavity would
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System implementation and characterisation

134
output that quickly diverges. The opposite happens if R
1
is increased. If R
2
is increased, the
cavity becomes unstable and the beam waists increase in size together. The opposite happens if
R
2
is increased.
Another quantity associated with laser resonators is the Fresnel number. This describes
the losses in the cavity due to diffraction. The losses in the cavity due to the polarisers and
Pockels cell are far greater than this so the diffraction losses are not considered here.
The polarisers used in this amplifier have been specially designed for use in large
bandwidth regenerative amplifiers [Newport 00]. They have a large reflection and transmission
bandwidth (greater than 200 nm) to cope with the large bandwidth pulses that have to propagate
through them many times. A drawback of these polarisers is their relative inefficiency, offering
an extinction ration of only 5:1 (ratio of p-polarisation transmission to s-polarisation
transmission). The Pockels cell used is a dry type (i.e. no index matching fluid between the
crystal and the environmental isolation windows) consequently, there are many surfaces from
which stray reflections can occur. This makes the Pockels cell a rather inefficient component of
the amplifier also, but minimises material path length. Large beam waists allow other
transverse modes to oscillate in the cavity.
5.3.1.2. Pumping
To overcome the losses from the components mentioned in the previous section, the
single pass gain has to be quite high. The titanium-doped sapphire crystal is pumped with a
portion of the energy from a Continuum Surelite II [Continuum]. Eighty millijoules of 532 nm
radiation is focussed through the crystal using a 50 cm focal length lens, giving a beam diameter
of ~2.5 mm at the crystal surface and a fluence of 1.63 Jcm
-2
at 10 Hz. The single pass gain of
the regenerative amplifier, compensating for the losses of the polarisers and Pockels cell, is
1.468, calculated using the following equation:

n
in
out
E
E
g
1

= (5.3)
where E
in
and E
out
are the input and output energies respectively (Joules) and n is the number of
passes of the gain medium. This calculation assumes that the gain is not saturated, which is
normally true except for the last two or three passes of the gain when the pump energy
fluctuates high. With an input energy of ~2 nJ and an output energy of ~2 mJ, the total gain
after 36 passes is 1.010
6
.
The timing of the pump pulse with respect to the seed pulse can help to suppress
amplified spontaneous emission (see section 2.1.2). If the seed pulse is timed to arrive just after
the pump pulse, then the seed pulse mode will most likely be the dominant one. If the seed
arrives much later than the pump pulse in the crystal, then spontaneous emission has more

System implementation and characterisation

135
chance to propagate from the crystal, along the amplifier cavity and back to the crystal seeing
gain. The effect is small, but everything that reduces amplified spontaneous emission helps to
reduce output pulse pedestal. The inset of Figure 5.8 shows the relative timing of the seed and
pump pulse at the crystal.
5.3.1.3. Pulse switching
Pulse switching is controlled by the Pockels cell in the middle of the cavity (Figure 5.7)
(see section 1.4.1). The firing of the Pockels cell is performed by a thyratron switched, high
voltage power supply and charge line. The charge line (a length of high voltage coaxial cable)
is charged to ~12 kV by the high voltage power supply. The thyratron then fires, discharging
the charge line to the Pockels cell; the cell sees half the voltage of the charge line,
approximately 6 kV. The duration of the resulting high voltage pulse is set by the length of the
charge line. This switch-in pulse locks the seed pulse into the regenerative amplifier cavity.
It is important that the voltage pulse is sufficiently short so that the Pockels cell is fully
off when the switched-in seed pulse returns from reflection at the cavity mirror. If this is not the
case, a portion of the seed pulse will be rejected from the cavity the next time it encounters a
polariser. The voltage pulse should also be long enough so as not to clip the seed pulse
temporally. The seed pulse is chirped so any modifications to its profile will result in
modifications to the pulse spectrum. The voltage pulse has a full-width-half-maximum duration
of ~5 ns with an approximately Gaussian temporal profile.
A second voltage pulse is required to switch out the amplified seed pulse when it has
the required energy. This is achieved by having a relatively long delay line attached to the
Pockels cell. After the voltage pulse has switched the Pockels cell, it travels down the delay
line, reflects from the other (open) end, and returns to the Pockels cell. The delay between the
switch-in and switch-out pulses is controlled by the length of the delay line. The switch-out
voltage pulse must coincide with the amplified seed pulse as it propagates through the Pockels
cell after an even number of round trips of the amplifier cavity.
There are two main drawbacks to this method of producing two short voltage pulses
with a relatively long delay between them (~200 ns). Firstly, the delay is fixed by the length of
the cable, which restricts the flexibility of the amplifier design. Secondly, the second voltage
pulse does not have the same amplitude as the original. Even though the reflection efficiency at
the low/high impedance boundary (open end) of the delay line is very high, there are losses in
the delay line and Pockels cell. This has the effect that either the switch in voltage has to be set
high in order that the second voltage pulse drives the Pockels cell exactly half wave, or that the
second voltage pulse does not drive the Pockels cell half wave making it an inefficient optical
switch. The latter effect is usually the case given the difficulty of producing very short duration

System implementation and characterisation

136
high voltage pulses. The reflected pulse is also longer than the input pulse due to dispersion in
the delay line. The has the effect that on the second to last pass of the Pockels cell, the applied
voltage is non-zero and a small portion of the cavity radiation is switched out towards the
oscillator.
Figure 5.8 shows the trace from a digital oscilloscope of the pump pulse and build-up of
the seed pulse in the regenerative amplifier cavity. Point A is the pump pulse at zero time and B
is a reflection of this pulse down the probe cable, due to imperfect impedance matching at the
oscilloscope. Point C shows the amplified seed pulses as they begin to be strong enough to be
detected by the photodiode looking through the back of cavity mirror M2. Consecutive pulses
are separated by the cavity round trip time of 11.4 ns. After point C, pulses increase in intensity
until they start to saturate, just before point D. When the pulse shown at point D reflects off
cavity mirror M2, the Pockels cell begins to turn on. It switches half-wave by the time the pulse
reaches the Pockels cell (~2.5 ns, half the duration of the Pockels cell voltage pulse). The pulse
then reflects off polariser TFP1.







0 50 100 150 200 250
0.0
0.5
1.0
1.5
2.0








F
E
D
C
B
A
D
i
o
d
e

s
i
g
n
a
l

(
V
o
l
t
s
)
Time (nanoseconds)
-4 -2 0 2 4 6 8 10
0.00
0.02
0.04
0.06
0.08
0.10





Figure 5.8 Traces from a digital oscilloscope showing the pump pulse (A, at 0 ns) and the
seeded build-up (around 200 ns) of the regenerative amplifier. Switch-out is just after 200 ns.
Inset shows the position of the seed (red trace) compared to the pump pulse (green trace). The
ringing after each short pulse is the response of the photodiode to a 300 ps pulse.
The pulse at point E is the pulse that remains in the cavity after switch-out. This pulse
is large due to the inefficiency of the polarisers and the fact that the Pockels cell doesnt quite
switch half wave. Consecutive pulses decrease in intensity due to cavity losses. The voltage
pulse that has switched the Pockels cell for the second time travels back down the transmission

System implementation and characterisation

137
line to the power supply, reflects back and switches the cell for a third time. This causes the
drop in pulse height at point F and a strong post-pulse as it coincides with the residual cavity
pulse passing though the Pockels cell towards the output polariser, TFP2. The contrast between
the main pulse and the post pulse is approximately 5:1. Although this level of post pulse is bad,
it will be suppressed by subsequent amplification stages and could be removed by changing the
length of the transmission line between the power supply and Pockels cell.
5.3.1.4. Unwanted pulse suppression
As mentioned in the previous section, the efficiency of the broad bandwidth polarisers
in the regenerative amplifier cavity is not the best. One consequence of this is that leakage
pulses from the polarisers can make its way to the oscillator. As an amplified pulse travels to
the right in the regenerative amplifier cavity (Figure 5.7), the pulse reflects off polariser TFP2 in
the opposite direction to the seed pulse. As the intensity of the cavity pulse increases, the
intensity of the leakage pulse increases until it reaches the stage where it upsets the mode
locking mechanism in the oscillator. This either results in mistimed pulses emerging from the
oscillator or it dropping out (mode locking stops). In order to avoid this, an input slicer is
employed to block the route of the leakage pulses back to the oscillator. Figure 5.9a shows a
schematic of the input slicer. This slicer replaces the Faraday isolator used in the original
system. Faraday isolators can add high order phase that is difficult to compensate for (see
section 2.2.2.2).
Pockels
Cell
Polariser Polariser /2
Removable
Energy Control
A
B
C
D
E
Polariser Polariser
Pockels
Cell
/2 Polariser /2
F G
H
I
(a)
(b)

Figure 5.9 Schematics of the input (a) and output (b) regenerative amplifier slicers. The
removable /2 waveplate of the input slicer allows an alignment beam to pass through the
second polariser. The output energy of the output slicer is controlled by allowing energy to be
rejected (via route G) by rotating the first /2 waveplate. Rays travel from left to right.
Pulses from the oscillator arrive from the left into a cube polariser. Cube polarisers are
used due to the large extinction ratio they offer (up to 10
4
:1). The first polariser rejects any light

System implementation and characterisation

138
from the oscillator that is not exactly horizontally polarised, via route A (Figure 5.9a). The
Pockels cell fires half-wave at 10 Hz, the same rate as the regenerative amplifier Pockels cell.
This serves, in the first instance, to select oscillator pulses at 10 Hz from the 89.4 MHz pulse
train. Under normal operation the half wave plate immediately after the Pockels cell is not in
place. This is only used to allow an alignment beam to pass through polariser TFP2 when the
Pockels cell is not fired. When the Pockels cell does fire, the polarisation of the beam is
switched to vertical allowing it to pass through the second Pockels cell. The cell remains in the
on state for ~5 ns, just long enough to allow one oscillator pulse through; subsequent pulses
are rejected via route C.
Leakage pulses from the regenerative amplifier arrive from the right of Figure 5.9a.
Unswitched leakage pulses are rejected at the first polariser via route D. Switched pulses,
switched out by the regenerative amplifier Pockels cell firing from reflected electrical pulses,
are rejected by the second polariser via route B. The Slicer Pockels cell is required to be off to
coincide with returning pulses.
Another consequence of the inefficiency of the regenerative amplifier intracavity
polarisers is pre-pulses in the output of the laser system as a whole. Amplified pulses travelling
to the left in the regenerative amplifier cavity (Figure 5.7) reflect off polariser TFP1 in the same
direction as the switched out, amplified pulse. As the intensity of the pulse in the cavity
increases, so does the intensity of the leakage pulse. These pulses, after propagating through the
rest of the amplification stages, can reach intensities as high as 10% of the main pulse. In order
to guard against this, an output slicer is used to block the output of the regenerative amplifier
until just before the main pulse arrives. The leakage pulses are separated by the round trip time
of the regenerative amplifier (11.4 ns), therefore a Pockels cell (with a rise time of ~2.5 ns) is
fast enough to remove these pulses.
Figure 5.9b shows a schematic of the output slicer that includes a waveplate-polariser
combination to control the laser energy. Output pulses from the regenerative amplifier arrive
from the left into a cube polariser. This rejects leakage pulses from the regenerative amplifier
polarisers that are horizontally polarised, via route F. The following waveplate and polariser
gives control over the output energy of the laser system as a whole by rotation of the waveplate.
Unwanted energy is rejected via route G. The Pockels cell-waveplate-polariser combination
that follows acts as the pulse selector. In normal operation the waveplate offers no rotation, this
is only used to bypass the slicer in cases of malfunction. When the Pockels cell is off, the
polariser rejects leakage pulses via route H. When the Pockels cell fires (half wave), just before
the arrival of the main pulse, the pulse polarisation is rotated by 90 allowing it to pass through
the polariser and to subsequent amplification stages. This combination of polarisers and
Pockels cell offers a contrast between pre pulse and the main pulse of ~10
5
.

System implementation and characterisation

139
5.3.1.5. Spectral characteristics
As mentioned in section 2.2.1.4, the finite width of the gain profile of titanium-doped
sapphire can cause narrowing of the spectral bandwidth of the amplified pulse. In addition, if
the centre wavelength of the gain is different from that of the seed pulse, gain shifting can
occur. From a study of the literature on titanium-doped sapphire crystals, it is apparent that the
exact centre and width of the gain profile of this laser crystal depends on the doping level of
Ti
3+
ions in the sapphire lattice. The doping level of the crystal used in the regenerative
amplifier is 0.10%.
The blue curve of Figure 5.10 shows the spectrum of the regenerative amplifier when it
free-runs or is unseeded. The centre of this spectrum is at 785 nm and it has a width of 21.6 nm.
The centre of this spectrum is not necessarily at the centre of the gain; it is a combination of this
and the other wavelength dependent components in the regenerative amplifier cavity. The width
of the spectrum does not represent the width of the gain profile; it is a combination of the
bandwidth of the wavelength dependent components and the bandwidth of the gain raised to the
power of the number of passes (in this case ~36, the approximate build-up time).






760 770 780 790 800 810 820 830
0.0
0.2
0.4
0.6
0.8
1.0
Oscillator
Regen
Output
N
o
r
m
a
l
i
s
e
d

i
n
t
e
n
s
i
t
y

(
a
r
b
i
t
r
a
r
y

u
n
i
t
s
)
Wavelength (nanometres)

Figure 5.10 Comparison of pulse spectra before (red curve) and after (green curve) the
regenerative amplifier and its free-run spectrum (blue curve). Curves show the effect of gain
shifting.
To illustrate the effects of gain shifting, the seed pulse was shifted to a slightly longer
wavelength than its normal centre value. The centre of the seed spectrum (red curve in Figure
5.10) is 805 nm and the bandwidth is 21.4 nm. The output of the regenerative amplifier after 36
passes of the gain, Pockels cell and two polarisers is shown as the green curve in Figure 5.10.
The width of the seed pulse spectrum has been reduced to 16.2 nm and the centre wavelength

System implementation and characterisation

140
has been shifted down to 799 nm. The input spectrum has been heavily compromised by the
regenerative amplifier due to the finite gain bandwidth. The input spectrum in this example was
a little on the small side, the normal operating bandwidth is 30 nm, which is reduced to 24 nm
by the amplifier. This bandwidth is enough to support a 28 fs pulse with a sech
2
temporal
profile. The centre wavelength of the seed pulse is also normally set to 801 nm, which is shifted
to 795 nm by the regenerative amplifier. This shift to shorter wavelengths can be balanced in
the power amplifier by gain saturation where shorter wavelengths are clipped, bringing the
centre wavelength back up to ~800 nm.
5.3.1.6. B-integral
The design parameters of the regenerative amplifier cavity have been chosen to keep the
accumulated B-integral to a minimum. It is considered that, in order to avoid the effects of self-
focusing and self-phase modulation in the amplifier chain, the accumulated B-integral should
not exceed a value of between three and five (see section 2.2.3.2). Table 5.1 shows a summary
of the optical components inside the regenerative amplifier cavity. The lengths of each material
after a single pass of the cavity are shown along with the associated value of the nonlinear
refractive index, n
2
.

Component Length (cm) n
2
(cm
2
W
-1
)
Titanium:Sapphire 2.0 3.1010
-16

Polarisers (bk7) 1.0 (2 0.5) 3.9810
-16

Pockels Cell (KD*P) 2.0 2.6510
-16

Table 5.1 Summary of optical components in the regenerative amplifier, their lengths and n
2

values [Nikogosyan 97].
Using equation 2.8 for B-integral and the data in the above table, the contribution from
the regenerative amplifier is 0.10 radians (assuming 36 cavity passes and input and output
energies of 2 nJ and 2 mJ respectively). Considering that the major contribution of B-integral
usually comes from the regenerative amplifier, given the large number of passes and high
intensities, this is a good basis for the rest of the laser system.
Further B-integral contributions arise from the output slicer. The optical components in
the slicer, their lengths and nonlinear refractive indices are summarised in Table 5.2. The B-
integral contribution from the output slicer is 0.0066 radians. In comparison, the input slicer
contributes 2.210
-8
radians to the B-integral. The difference is due to the six orders of
magnitude difference in intensity between the input and output of the regenerative amplifier.

System implementation and characterisation

141

Component Length (cm) n
2
(cm
2
W
-1
)
Waveplates (bk7) 0.1 (2 0.05) 3.9810
-16

Polarisers (bk7) 2.4 (3 0.8) 3.9810
-16

Pockels Cell (KD*P) 2.0 2.6510
-16

Lenses (bk7) 0.6 (2 0.3) 3.9810
-16

Table 5.2 Summary of optical components in the output slicer, their lengths and n
2
values
[Nikogosyan 97].

5.3.2. Pre-amplifier
The pre-amplifier is a two-pass amplifier pumped with a portion of the energy from the
Surelite II [Continuum] (Figure 5.11). The output of the Surelite is split using a 30% (reflected)
beam-splitter to pump the 6 mm long, Brewster-cut titanium-doped sapphire crystal with
~65 mJ. The crystal has an effective aperture width of ~3 mm; the pump and seed beams are
matched to this. The pump beam is focused through the crystal with a 1 m focal length lens
placed 72 cm away. The seed beam size is set using a down collimating Newtonian telescope.
The pump fluence at the crystal surface is 0.92 Jcm
-2
. The pre-amplifier input energy is 2 mJ
and the output energy is 5 mJ giving a single pass gain of 1.58 (using equation 5.3) and total
gain factor of 2.5.
Ti:Sapphire
Crystal
65 mJ
532 nm
In
Out
B

Figure 5.11 Schematic of the pre-amplifier. B = beam block blocks excess pump energy that
passes through the Brewster-cut titanium-doped sapphire crystal.
The only optical material to be considered here in terms of calculating the B-integral
contribution is titanium-doped sapphire. The length of the crystal is 6 mm and the value for the
nonlinear refractive index is 3.1010
-16
cm
2
W
-1
(from Table 5.1). After two passes of the
crystal, the B-integral contribution, given input and output energies of 2 mJ and 5 mJ
respectively, is 0.0099 radians.
5.3.3. Power amplifier
The power amplifier is a scaled-up version of the pre-amplifier. The amplifying
medium in this case is a 15 mm cube of 0.10% titanium-doped sapphire. It has antireflection

System implementation and characterisation

142
coatings on two opposite surfaces for the pump wavelength at 532 nm and broad band centred at
800 nm. A schematic of the 4-pass amplifier is shown in Figure 5.12.
In
Out
Ti:Sapphire
Crystal
400 mJ
532 nm
800 mJ
532 nm

Figure 5.12 Schematic of the bow-tie power amplifier.
The crystal is pumped from both sides by two doubled YAG lasers, a BMI 500 Series
[BMI] delivering 400 mJ and a Spectra-Physics Quanta Ray [Spectra Physics] delivering
800 mJ. The distance between the pump laser and the crystal is on the order of 4 m, too far to
just let the beam propagate unaided. For this reason an imaging system is used that images the
doubling crystal in each pump laser to the amplifier crystal. This prevents the beams from
degrading as they propagate from the pump lasers and gives a uniform pump profile across the
amplifier crystal. The imaging system used is a Newtonian telescope, which means there are
intermediate foci. The intensity at the intermediate focal spot (~48m 1/e
2
radius) of the BMI is
2.1 GWcm
-2
; the region around the focal spot needs to be flushed with filtered air to stop the
beam breaking down on dust particles. The intensity at the intermediate focal spot (~25m 1/e
2

radius) of the Quanta Ray is 25.5 GWcm
-2
; the focal spot is flushed with filtered helium to stop
the beam breaking down in air due to multiphoton ionisation (ionisation potential of helium is
1.7 times higher than that of nitrogen).
The BMI is imaged so that the beam diameter at the crystal is 7 mm and the energy per
pulse is 400 mJ (5 ns full-width-half-maximum duration) giving a fluence of 1.0 Jcm
-2
. The
Quanta Ray is imaged so that the beam diameter at the crystal is 12 mm and the energy per
pulse is 800 mJ (in 3 ns) giving a fluence of 0.7 Jcm
-2
. A Galilean telescope is used to increase
the diameter of the seed beam into the amplifier crystal. Seed pulses have 5 mJ of energy from
the pre-amplifier and are amplified to 60 mJ by the power amplifier (before compression). The
total gain factor is 12 and the single pass gain is 1.86 (four passes). This is not the optimal
pump geometry; it is possible to pump the crystal much harder by decreasing the size of the
pump beams at the crystal surface. It has been possible to extract up to 200 mJ from the four-
pass amplifier. This corresponds to a total gain factor of 40 and a single pass gain of 2.52.
The large amount of energy deposited in the laser crystal by the two pump lasers causes
an effect called thermal lensing (see section 2.1.3). The induced lens is positive and so focuses
the beam each time it passes through the crystal. As long as the induced lens is not too strong,
the effect of thermal lensing can be eliminated by making the seed beam slightly diverging by
adjusting the separation of the lenses of the input telescope. By the time the beam has passed

System implementation and characterisation

143
through the crystal four times, it is recollimated. If the induced lens were too strong, the beam
would have to be so diverging that it would be clipped by the finite aperture of the crystal on the
first pass.
Another problem arising from the induced thermal lens is that of astigmatism, as the
beam passes through the crystal at an angle (see section 2.1.4). This is eliminated by passing
the seed beam though the crystal symmetrically, an even number of times and at small angles
(maximum 5.5). The seed beam picks up astigmatism as it passes though the crystal on the
first pass, but as long as the beam is at the same angle on the second pass, the astigmatism will
be cancelled. The same occurs on the third and fourth passes.
The only optical material to be considered in the power amplifier in terms of calculating
the B-integral contribution is titanium-doped sapphire. The length of the crystal is 15 mm and
the value for the nonlinear refractive index is 3.1010
-16
cm
2
W
-1
(Table 5.1). After four passes
of the crystal, the B-integral contribution, given input and output energies of 5 mJ and 60 mJ
respectively, is 0.032 radians. The B-integral contribution from the telescope before the power
amplifier (assuming two similar lenses to the telescope before the pre-amplifier) is
0.0059 radians.
The current titanium-doped sapphire crystal in the power amplifier has a defect, in that
it has inherent astigmatism. This is compensated for by tilting one of the lenses of the telescope
before the power amplifier. This is not an ideal situation as the astigmatism is not completely
removed and a small amount of coma is added. It also restricts the degree to which the crystal
can be pumped as the combination of the inherent astigmatism and the induced thermal lens is
awkward. A new crystal is on order at the time of writing this thesis; therefore, the full
potential of the power amplifier cannot be reported on here.
5.4. Compressor implementation
The hardest part of the design of a chirped pulse amplification laser system has already
been achieved - the design of an aberration-free stretcher. The corresponding compressor
comprises two parallel diffraction gratings separated by the effective grating separation of the
stretcher. The grating input angles are the same as that for the stretcher. Figure 5.13 shows a
schematic of the compressor that corresponds to the stretcher described in section 4.3.1. The
diffraction gratings used are Jobin Yvon holographic, 1200 lines/mm, 140 mm 120 mm [Jobin
Yvon]. The retroreflector shown in Figure 5.13 is a roof reflector made from two 130 mm
80 mm ZERODUR

[HV Skan] substrates, polished in house to /10 by Martin Horton


[Horton] and protected gold coated by Coherent Optics Europe [Coherent OE].

System implementation and characterisation

144
1142 mm
33
23
Optical
Axis
RR

Figure 5.13 Detailed schematic of the final compressor design. RR = gold plated
retroreflector. Grating constant is 1200 lines/mm.
Second order dispersion, or chirp, from the compressor is controlled by changing the
separation of the two diffraction gratings along the optical axis. Optical material in the
amplifier chain stretches the pulse as it propagates and adds mostly linear chirp. This can be
compensated for by adjusting the compressor configuration. Figure 5.14 shows how a 35 fs
pulse is stretched (black curve) when the compressor grating separation is changed. The
contribution to the duration of the pulse imposed by higher order phase is shown by the red
(third order) and green (fourth order) curves.






-4 -2 0 2 4
-1000
-500
0
500
1000

D
u
r
a
t
i
o
n

i
n
c
r
e
a
s
e

(
f
e
m
t
o
s
e
c
o
n
d
s
)
Grating separation displacement (millimetres)
Phase order
2
nd
3
rd
4
th

Figure 5.14 Duration addition to a 35 fs pulse as the separation between the gratings in the
compressor is changed. Black curve shows duration change due to second order phase, red
curve from third order phase and green from fourth order phase. Maximum stretch due to third
and fourth order phase is 20 fs and 4 fs respectively across the 1 cm grating separation
displacement shown. Calculated using the code described in chapter 3.
Small amounts of third and fourth order phase can be controlled by changing the angles
of the two diffraction gratings at the same time. This also adds a large amount of second order
phase that can be compensated for by changing the grating separation again. Figure 5.15 shows

System implementation and characterisation

145
how a 35 fs pulse is stretched when the two diffraction gratings are rotated about the centre of
their surfaces. The red and green curves show the stretch contributions from third and fourth
order phase respectively. The blue curve shows how much the grating separation has been
changed in order to keep the second order phase contribution zero as the gratings are rotated.






-0.4 -0.2 0.0 0.2 0.4
-30
-20
-10
0
10
20








D
u
r
a
t
i
o
n

i
n
c
r
e
a
s
e

(
f
e
m
t
o
s
e
c
o
n
d
s
)
Gratings angle displacement (degrees)
Phase order
3
rd
4
th
-25
-20
-15
-10
-5
0
5
10
15
20
25



G
r
a
t
i
n
g

s
e
p
a
r
a
t
i
o
n
c
o
m
p
e
n
s
a
t
i
o
n

(
m
i
l
l
i
m
e
t
r
e
s
)

Figure 5.15 Duration addition to a 35 fs pulse as the two diffraction gratings in the compressor
are rotated. Positive displacement angle corresponds to rotating the grating anti-clockwise in
Figure 5.13. Red curve shows contribution from third order phase and green curve shows
contribution from fourth order phase. Blue curve shows how much the compressor grating
separation was changed in order to keep the contribution from second order phase zero as the
gratings are rotated. Calculated using the code described in chapter 3.
It can be seen from the previous two graphs that second order phase is the major
contributor to the duration of the recompressed pulse. Third and fourth order phase do
contribute to duration, but they have most effect on the contrast of the pulse. Figure 5.16 shows
how, given a pulse with initially zero residual third and fourth order phase, the contrast of the
pulse changes as the angle of the two compressor gratings are rotated. Pulse contrast is defined
here as the level of the second highest peak, either side of the main peak, when the main peak
height is normalised. It is obvious from the graph that third order phase dominates in its
contribution to pulse contrast. Pure fourth order phase at the extremes of the scale of gratings
angle displacement in Figure 5.16 would make the contrast 100:1.

System implementation and characterisation

146






-0.4 -0.2 0.0 0.2 0.4
0.00
0.05
0.10
0.15
0.20
0.25

C
o
n
t
r
a
s
t
Gratings angle displacement (degrees)
Phase order
3
rd
4
th

Figure 5.16 Change in contrast of a 35 fs pulse as the two diffraction gratings in the
compressor are rotated. Positive displacement angle corresponds to rotating the grating anti-
clockwise in Figure 5.13. Red curve shows contribution from third order phase and green
curve shows contribution from fourth order phase. Contrast level assumes a pulse with
originally zero third and fourth order residual phase. Calculated using the code described in
chapter 3.
The size of the diffraction gratings is an important consideration. If the gratings are too
small the input beam has to be small and there is a danger of damaging the gratings due to
excess fluence. If the gratings are too large, there is a limit to the geometry of the compressor;
the larger the gratings, the further away from Littrow configuration the compressor must be (see
section 3.1.1). There is also the issue of cost of diffraction gratings especially the holographic
variety, which are the most efficient for infrared wavelengths and consequently the most widely
used in chirped pulse amplification.
There is much debate over the damage thresholds of holographic diffraction gratings for
short pulse durations (femtoseconds). According to the Lawrence Livermore National
Laboratories in the US, who make such gratings, the damage threshold is believed to be
between 300 and 500 mJ/cm
2
[Banks 97]. The maximum energy the Blackett Laboratory Laser
Consortium chirped pulse amplification laser system described could deliver before
compression is 200 mJ (see section 5.3.3), and the beam size depends on the choice of steering
mirror size used to transport the beam to experiments. Assuming that the maximum clear
aperture restriction on a mirror is when it is used at 45, and that a 1.5 mm margin is unusable
around the circumference due to the limited coverage of the thin film coating (1 mm margin for
1 mirrors), Table 5.3 summarises the maximum beam sizes allowable for different off the
shelf mirror diameters (D).

System implementation and characterisation

147

Maximum beam size (mm)
D (inches) D
U
(mm) 1/e
2
FWHM F
G
(mJcm
-2
) P
B
(Wcm
-2
) D
B
(m)
1 23.4 16.6 9.7 155.0 4.110
12
0.03
2 47.8 33.8 19.9 37.4 9.810
11
0.13
3 73.2 51.8 30.5 15.9 4.210
11
0.31
4 98.6 69.7 41.0 8.8 2.310
11
0.56
Table 5.3 Summary of allowable beam diameters as a function of mirror diameter. D = mirror
diameter, D
U
= usable mirror diameter, 1/e
2
= 1/e
2
beam diameter, FWHM = full-width-half-
maximum beam diameter, F
G
= peak fluence at the grating surface assuming 200 mJ pulse
energy, P
B
= peak beam power after compression assuming a 50% efficient compressor and
D
B
= propagation distance required to accumulate a B-integral of one radian.
The allowable beam diameters stated also assume that the beam is clipped at the 1/e
2

intensity level by the sides of the mirror. The fraction of energy lost by clipping at this level is
small (~7%). Assuming a grating input angle of 33 and an input energy of 200 mJ, the peak
fluence on the grating is shown in the column labelled F
G
. The fluence on the grating does not
exceed the limit mentioned above for any beam size. This is not the limiting factor in the choice
of beam size; the size of the gratings is chosen to be large to accommodate the large pulse
spectrum. The column labelled P
B
shows the peak fluence of the recompressed beam, assuming
a compressor efficiency of 50% and a full-width-half-maximum pulse duration of 40 fs. The
column labelled D
B
shows how far this beam can propagate in air before a B-integral of one
radian is accumulated (n
2
(air) = 9.910
-19
cm
2
W
-1
[Nikogosyan 97]). The fluence of the
recompressed beam is obviously the limiting factor in beam size. A beam size of 30.5 mm
(FWHM) was chosen as a compromise and, at the highest energies, the beam is to be
propagated in argon whose nonlinear refractive index is a factor of 3.7 lower than that of air
(2.710
-19
cm
2
W
-1
[Nikogosyan 97]).
5.5. Laser characteristics
This section summarises the output characteristics of the laser as a whole. Section 5.6
explains how each element of the laser system described in this chapter is joined together to
form the upgraded laser.
5.5.1. Temporal
Using a second order, single-shot autocorrelator (see section 1.2.2.2) a measurement of
the duration of the output pulse has been made. Figure 5.17 shows the profile of this

System implementation and characterisation

148
measurement on a linear and logarithmic (inset) intensity scale. The dynamic range of the
measurement is limited to that of the CCD camera used (Pulnix). The duration of the pulse,
assuming a sech
2
temporal profile, is 595 fs. This is higher than the predicted duration of 40 fs
and is most likely due to incomplete recompression.






-400 -300 -200 -100 0 100 200
0.0
0.2
0.4
0.6
0.8
1.0







N
o
r
m
a
l
i
s
e
d

I
n
t
e
n
s
i
t
y
Autocorrelation Time (femtoseconds)
-200 0 200
10
-2
10
-1
10
0




Figure 5.17 Temporal profile of the output pulse of the laser. Full-width-half-maximum
duration is 595 fs. Inset shows the profile of the pulse on a logarithmic intensity scale.
The spectrum associated with this pulse is shown in Figure 5.18. The time bandwidth
product of the measured temporal and spectral profiles is 0.55. The theoretical product for a
sech
2
pulse is 0.315, which means there is excess bandwidth. Twenty nanometres bandwidth is
sufficient to support a 34 fs sech
2
pulse.
It is impossible to infer exactly how to fix this problem without using a more
sophisticated pulse measurement device, such as a FROG [Kane 93a] or SPIDER [Iaconis 99]
(see section 1.2.2.3 and section 1.2.2.4). FROG or SPIDER should give an idea whether the
problem is due to lack of bandwidth or residual high order phase by measuring the electric field
and phase of the pulse both temporally and spectrally. With further optimisation, it should be
possible to reduce the pulse duration to the design duration of 40 fs, or even lower.

System implementation and characterisation

149






770 780 790 800 810 820
0.0
0.1
0.2
0.3
0.4
0.5
0.6
0.7
0.8
0.9
1.0

N
o
r
m
a
l
i
s
e
d

i
n
t
e
n
s
i
t
y
Wavelength (nanometres)

Figure 5.18 Spectral profile of the output pulse of the laser (red curve). Full-width-half-
maximum bandwidth of the pulse is 20 nm. Spectrum centred at 797 nm. The green curve
shows the emission lines of rubidium used to calibrate the spectrum.
5.5.2. Spatial
An important aspect of the final laser intensity is the focal spot size. This is measured
using a far-field monitor, which comprises a lens and microscope objective (see section 1.2.2.1).
The microscope objective images the focal spot of the lens onto the array of a CCD camera.
The monitor is calibrated by imaging something of known size, such as a thin wire. Figure 5.19
shows the result of such a measurement on the beam at the output of the compressor. The spot
is formed using a lens of focal length 50 cm.
The left-hand image shows the focal spot measured directly from the CCD camera and
the right-hand picture shows the same image on a linear colour scale showing two orders of
magnitude of intensity. The spot has a 1/e
2
radius of 23 m, which is 1.9 times diffraction
limited (theoretical focal spot size calculated using
0
= f/). The near field spatial profile is
not as good as this as it suffers from aberration compensation in the power amplifier input
telescope. The beam has a more oval profile as it enters the compressor and has a nominal 1/e
2

radius of 10.7 mm.
The far-field monitor is also useful for monitoring beam aberrations. When the gratings
in the compressor are not exactly parallel, the output beam is astigmatic. This manifests itself
as an astigmatic focus in the far-field monitor. If the beam has residual astigmatism before the
compressor, then it can be compensated for by misaligning the compressor gratings. This
causes the pulse to be incompletely recompressed. The far-field monitor can be used to measure

System implementation and characterisation

150
and eliminate this. The beam depicted in Figure 5.19 shows no residual astigmatism before or
after the compressor.

Figure 5.19 Beam shape at the focus of a 50 cm focal length lens. Arrow has length 50 m.
Right image is the same as the left grey-scale image but shows full dynamic range (two orders
of magnitude) of the measurement on a linear colour scale (ROYGBIV). 1/e
2
radius is 23 m
which is 1.9 times diffraction limited.
5.5.3. Energy
As mentioned at the end of section 5.3.3, the laser system does not quite meet the design
specification in terms of pulse energy, due to aberrations in the power amplifier crystal. The
recompressed pulse energy is 30 mJ instead of the predicted 100 mJ (at the time of writing).
This is to be remedied as soon as a replacement amplifier crystal arrives. The shot-to-shot
energy stability is good with fluctuations characterised by a standard deviation of only 0.75 mJ.
Figure 5.20 is a histogram of the energy of consecutive shots before the laser was upgraded.
The graph is placed here to show how the energy fluctuates with a lognormal type distribution
around a central value. The upgraded laser fluctuates in the same fashion but with a higher
average energy and smaller standard deviation.
The maximum available focused intensity of the laser at the time of writing this thesis is
1.510
17
Wcm
-2
, assuming an input 1/e
2
beam radius of 10.7 mm, a lens of focal length 30 cm
(producing a 1.9 times diffraction limited focal spot) and a pulse duration of 60 fs. The
predicted best case focused intensity when the power amplifier is fully upgraded is
6.010
19
Wcm
-2
, assuming an input beam 1/e
2
radius of 25.9 mm, an f-3 off-axis parabolic
focusing optic and a pulse duration of 40 fs.

System implementation and characterisation

151






0 2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18
0
20
40
60
80
100
120
140
160
N
u
m
b
e
r

i
n

b
i
n
Bin energy (millijoules)

Figure 5.20 Accumulation of 4199 laser shots showing the variation of energy on a shot-to-shot
basis for the laser before it was upgraded. Average energy 11.4 mJ with a standard deviation
of 1.5 mJ.

System implementation and characterisation

152
5.6. Full system
Each section of the upgraded laser system has been independently described in this
chapter. In this section, the way in which these sections fit together to form the Blackett
Laboratory Laser Consortium, titanium-doped sapphire, chirped pulse amplification laser
system is described. Figure 5.21 shows a photograph of the completed laser (excluding the
compressor table). The whole laser fits onto three optical tables: two 3 m 1.2 m tables for the
oscillator, stretcher and amplifiers and one 1.8 m 0.9 m table for the compressor.

Figure 5.21 Picture of the completed laser system. A = oscillator, B = stretcher,
C = oscilloscope traces showing spectrum (top) and pulse train (bottom) from the oscillator,
D = Millennia, E = Surelite, F = regenerative amplifier, G = input and output slicers, H = pre-
amplifier, I = BMI, J = power amplifier (bow-tie) and K = Quanta ray. Photograph courtesy of
Nick Jackson - Physics department photographer at Imperial College.
The arrangement of each stage of the laser system on the optical tables is critical as
there is not a great deal of space. Individual sections of the laser are not necessarily isolated
from the next; a general schematic of the laser system is shown in Figure 5.22. In this
schematic, pink represents stages with amplification; green represents pump lasers; pale blue
represents passive optical stages; yellow represents measurement devices; red arrows show the

System implementation and characterisation

153
paths of infrared beams and green arrows show the paths of pump beams. The photograph in
Figure 5.21 was taken from the top left corner of the top table in Figure 5.22
Millennia
Surelite
A
Oscillator
S
Slicers
Regenerative Amp
Pre-Amp
T
Power Amp (Bow-Tie)
Quanta
Ray
BMI
Compressor
A FFM
Output
Stretcher

Figure 5.22 Schematic of the laser system. A represents autocorrelators, S is a spectrometer, T
is a Newtonian telescope and FFM is a far-field monitor. The grey outlines represent the three
optical tables that accommodate the laser system.
For each amplification stage described in sections 5.3.1, 5.3.2 and 5.3.3, the
contribution to the B-integral is calculated. Table 5.4 shows a summary of the B-integral
contribution for each stage, the output energy from each stage and the total accumulated B-
integral of the whole laser. The accumulated B-integral is very low in the laser - due to the
careful choice of beam size in each amplification stage.

Laser Stage B-Integral (radians) Output Energy (mJ)
Regenerative Amplifier 0.10 2 mJ
Output Slicer 0.0066 2 mJ
Pre-Amplifier 0.0099 5 mJ
Power Amplifier Telescope 0.0059 5 mJ
Power Amplifier 0.032 60 mJ
Total = 0.15
Table 5.4 Summary of B-integral contributions from each laser stage, the total accumulated B-
integral and output energy from each stage. All values of B-Integral stated to two significant
figures.

System implementation and characterisation

154
When adding all the individual stages of the laser together, it is important to make sure
they are timed together correctly. For example, when a Pockels cell fires, it is activated by a
voltage spike that is 5 ns wide and has an approximately Gaussian profile. The optical pulse
that it switches is 300 ps wide and is chirped. If the timing drifts or jitters by only 1 ns, the peak
intensity of the optical pulse is reduced and the spectrum is distorted. This affects both the
recompressed pulse duration and energy. The timing of the laser is controlled by two Stanford
Research Systems delay generators [SRS] that together give eight independently controllable
triggers. Figure 5.23 is a schematic of how each stage of the laser is timed with the rest.
11.2 ns
100.707 ms
OSC
10 Hz
InS
SFL
SQS
RIn
ROut
OutS
QRFL
QRQS
5.7 ns
4.5 ns
~3 s
205.8 ns
~7 ns
BMIFL
BMIQS
~20 ns
118 ns
~190 s
~173 s
~227 s
240 s
172 s
193 s

Figure 5.23 Laser timing diagram. Time scales are nonlinear but pulse order is accurate. OSC
represents 89.4 MHz pulse train from oscillator; 10 Hz is the oscillator pulse train divided by
factor of ~89.410
5
; InS = input slicer; SFL = Surelite flashlamp trigger; SQS = Surelite Q-
switch; Rin = regenerative amplifier switch in; Rout = regenerative amplifier switch out; OutS
= output slicer; QRFL = Quanta Ray flashlamps; QRQS = Quanta Ray Q-switch; BMIFL =
BMI flashlamps; BMIQS = BMI Q-switch.
The first row, labelled OSC, represents the 89.4 MHz pulse train from the oscillator
monitored on a fast photodiode. This is divided down by a factor of ~89.410
5
by a divider
circuit built in-house to give a nominal 10 Hz train that forms the basis of the repetition rate of
the laser row labelled 10 Hz. The first trigger from the SRS delay generator is for the row
labelled InS, the Pockels cell of the input slicer. This trigger is timed ~3 s after the 10 Hz
trigger to allow pre-triggering for experiments. The electrical pulse that fires the Pockels cell is
generated by the same driver as for the Pockels cell in the regenerative amplifier (see section
5.3.1.3). The delay between the input slicer and regenerative amplifier Pockels cell (row

System implementation and characterisation

155
labelled Rin) is controlled by the length of BNC cable connecting the two. The second firing of
the regenerative amplifier Pockels cell is controlled as described in section 5.3.1.3 (row labelled
Rout).
One problem with the SRS delay generators is a drift in the output delay as a function of
ambient temperature. The magnitude of the drift is also related to the length of the delay. For
example, a 1 s delay suffers a drift of the order of 500 ps whereas a 100 s delay suffers a drift
of the order of 5 ns (source: users manual for the delay generators [SRS]). Consequently, the
large (100s s) delays required between the flashlamps and Q-switch of neodymium:YAG
lasers poses a problem. The exact position in time of the optical output of these lasers tends to
drift as the temperature in the laboratory changes (which it can do by as much as 10C through
the day). In addition, the infrared beams need to be timed in close relation to the Q-switch
trigger, so Pockels cell delays tend to be long and susceptible to drifts.
The solution to this problem is shown by the rows labelled SFL and SQS in Figure 5.23
the Surelite flashlamp and Q-switch triggers respectively. The Q-switch is triggered with a
short delay compared to the 10 Hz trigger so that the timing drift is small. The flashlamps are
triggered just before the next pulse in the 10 Hz train. The delay required to do this is the period
of the nominal 10 Hz trigger minus the 3 s experimental delay and minus the 193 s flashlamp
Q-switch delay required by the Surelite. The drift associated with this delay is large compared
to the timing of infrared triggers, but small compared to the flashlamp delay. It therefore has no
consequence to the output energy of the Surelite, or the arrival of the green optical pulse. The
row labelled SFL in the figure shows two triggers: the one on the right is the flashlamp trigger
for the next laser shot and the one on the left is the trigger timed from the previous pulse in the
10 Hz train that corresponds to the Q-switch trigger for the current laser shot. One problem
caused by this set-up is the Surelite does not fire correctly as soon as the SRS delay generators
are switched on. The first Q-switch trigger is not preceded by a flashlamp trigger so there is no
laser output it must wait for the next trigger in order to function correctly.
The next trigger is for the Pockels cell in the output slicer. The ~7 ns delay between the
output trigger for the regenerative amplifier and output slicer is set by the optical path between
the two Pockels cells (~2.1 m). This is true also of the delay between the output slicer and the
BMI Q-switch. The optical path between the output slicer Pockels cell and the power amplifier
crystal is ~6.1 m. The flashlamp and Q-switch triggers for the BMI and Quanta Ray are
controlled in the same way as for the Surelite. This ensures the green output pulses from the
two pump lasers arrive at the power amplifier crystal with the minimum of timing drift.


6. Summary, conclusions and
further work
6.1. Summary
This thesis has documented the modelling and upgrade of a state of the art high power,
chirped pulse amplification laser system. Motivations for the upgrade, a description of the
original system and methods of measuring ultrashort pulses are given in chapter one. Design
considerations for high power, short pulse laser systems were discussed in chapter two. These
include the effects of passing pulses with large bandwidths through many optical components
with limiting spectral characteristics, and the problem of the nonlinear response of optical
materials due to high intensity radiation.
To aid the design of the stretcher and compressor of the laser system, a suite of models
was written including a full three-dimensional ray-tracing model. These models form the basis
of the bulk of the theoretical part of the thesis and are described in detail in chapter three. A
description of how the three-dimensional model was rigorously tested (by modelling simple
optical configurations where the result is well described analytically) is given in chapter four.
The model was used to test many different stretchers systems, two of which are discussed in
detail. The second of these stretcher designs, based on the ffner triplet, was shown to work
very well as it allows faithful recompression of 30 fs pulses stretched by a factor of 10,000. The
stretcher only performs well however, as long as optics with a high surface figure are used as
each optic is passed many times. This links high cost with high performance. To overcome this
problem, a stretcher based on a reflective doublet was designed. This system uses a positive
and negative focusing optic that is arranged such that the diffraction grating lies at an
aberration free position. This gives a large stretch factor with only a single pass (compared to
the double pass in the ffner triplet based stretcher). The doublet-based design outperforms the
ffner-based design as long as the doublet stretcher optic sizes are slightly increased. The two
stretchers perform comparably if the optic sizes are kept the same, but the surface figure
specification for the doublet stretcher is lower than that of the ffner stretcher, much reducing
its cost.
In section five, the integration of the new stretcher design into the laser upgrade is
described. The upgrade includes the replacement of the original oscillator with an ultrashort

Summary, conclusions and further work

157
pulse version and upgrade of the amplifier chain. This includes increasing the overall gain
factor, and adapting the amplifiers so they are able to support short pulses with large associated
bandwidths. The implementation of the compressor that corresponds to the stretcher is then
discussed, followed by the final laser characteristics. In the final section of chapter five, the
system as a whole is described. This includes the timing of the pump lasers, a schematic of the
layout of the laser on three optical tables and a summary of the accumulated B-integral through
the laser.
6.2. Conclusions
The primary aim of this PhD was to upgrade the Blackett Laboratory Laser Consortium,
titanium-doped sapphire, chirped pulse amplification laser system in terms of pulse duration and
energy. The first of these goals has been met by the implementation of a new short pulse
oscillator, stretcher and associated compressor. These components are completely new to the
upgraded system. The stretcher stretches the oscillator pulses from 30 fs to 300 ps, as designed,
avoiding damage in the amplifier chain due to self-focusing. The final pulse duration was
measured as 59 fs using a single-shot autocorrelator, reduced from 260 fs, just before the
upgrade commenced.
The laser system was designed to produce 40 fs pulses, however the final pulse duration
after the upgrade is currently 59 fs. There are several possible explanations for this discrepancy.
Firstly, a lack of bandwidth in the recompressed pulse. The oscillator produces pulses with a
time-bandwidth product of 0.55 compared to 0.441 for Gaussian pulses and 0.315 for sech
2

pulses. If the cause of the extra, unused bandwidth is high order phase originating in the
oscillator, this will remain after recompression, as the effects of the stretcher and compressor
should cancel. These high order phase components may only be detected and removed with the
use of a FROG or SPIDER (see sections 1.2.2.3 and 1.2.2.4). The regenerative amplifier is the
major contributor to reductions in pulse bandwidth. This can be remedied by spectral filtering
in the amplifier cavity. If the increased pulse duration is caused by a lack of bandwidth, this
may alleviate the problem.
Secondly, high order phase will be added, to some degree, by the amplifier chain. The
compressor can compensate for this, to a certain extent, by careful arrangement of the
diffraction gratings (see section 5.4). If the added high order phase is too extreme, it cannot be
compensated in this way. Further compensation can be achieved by changes in the alignment of
the stretcher. Again, this can only be done with the help of a FROG or SPIDER. Thirdly, the
stretcher may well be aligned for aberration-free operation as described in section 5.2, but may

Summary, conclusions and further work

158
still be adding unwanted high order phase. This can only be detected and removed again by the
use of a FROG or SPIDER. Fourthly, after the beam has passed through the power amplifier, it
is slightly aberrated. The compressor is very intolerant to beam aberrations and consequently
causes the recompressed pulse to be longer in duration. This problem will be removed when the
new power amplifier gain crystal is incorporated into the system.
The final reason for the increase in recompressed pulse duration over that predicted is
probably a combination of these effects. Further optimisation will be achieved by replacement
of the power amplifier gain crystal, use of a measurement device that records the spectral and
temporal phase of the recompressed pulse and possibly by spectral filtering in the regenerative
amplifier.
The upgrade of the pulse energy has been partially implemented. The amplifiers have
been adapted to cope with the large bandwidth associated with these short pulses. This has
clearly been achieved, as the full-width-half-maximum bandwidth of the output pulse is 20 nm
compared with the 9 nm bandwidth of the original system. The oscillator pulses have been
successfully stretched and amplified up to an energy of 200 mJ. There is currently a problem
however with the gain crystal in the power amplifier which limits the available energy to 60 mJ
before compression. The laser consequently delivers an estimated 1.510
17
Wcm
-2
instead of
the best case predicted 610
19
Wcm
-2
. This will be improved in the near future with a higher
quality, power amplifier crystal.
As a gauge of the accuracy of the focused intensity measurement, ion appearance
intensities in a time of flight spectrometer have been used. The appearance intensity of a
particular charge state is the intensity at which a corresponding number of electrons are ejected
from an atom via barrier suppression. The existence of this charge state is measured by looking
for a signal at a particular time (related to the mass and charge state of the ion) in an ion time of
flight spectrum. Using a 20 cm focal length lens (producing a 2.7 times diffraction limited focal
spot), argon with a charge state of 8+ (which has an appearance intensity for barrier suppression
ionisation of 2.6510
16
Wcm
-2
) was observed with a pulse energy of 7 mJ and duration of 70 fs.
However, neon 5+, which has an appearance intensity of 4.0510
16
Wcm
-2
was not seen under
the same conditions. The amplitude of the Ar
8+
peak in the ion spectrum was small compared to
those for lower charge states, suggesting the actual laser intensity was closer to the argon
appearance intensity. The estimated focused intensity for the same conditions, using equation
3.5, is 3.510
16
Wcm
-2
.
The following table gives a summary of the focused intensities mentioned in sections
1.5, 5.5.3 and in this section. Equations 3.5 and 3.6 have been used in each case to calculate the
focused intensity, assuming a sech
2
temporal profile. Original refers to the laser before the
upgrade; Upgraded refers to the laser at the time of writing this thesis; Predicted refers to the

Summary, conclusions and further work

159
best case focused intensity, using an f-3 off-axis parabolic focusing optic producing a
diffraction limited focal spot and using the maximum available energy from the amplifiers; and
Appearance I refers to the conditions of the laser when the appearance intensity measurement
was made.

E (mJ) t (fs) (nm) (mm)
0
(m) f (cm) N I
0
(Wcm
-2
)
Original 40 150 780 10.0 7.5 30.0 2.0 6.710
16

Upgraded 30 60 800 10.7 7.1 30.0 1.9 1.510
17

Predicted 100 40 800 25.9 1.5 15.5 (f-3) 1.0 6.010
19

Appearance I 7 70 800 10.7 4.8 20.0 2.7 3.510
16

Table 6.1 Summary of focused intensities mentioned at various points through this thesis.
E = pulse energy; t = full width half maximum pulse duration; = laser wavelength;
= input beam 1/e
2
radius;
0
= focal spot 1/e
2
radius; f = focal length of focusing optic;
N = number of times diffraction limited focal spot; and I
0
= peak focused intensity.
6.3. Further work
Future directions for work on the laser system are obvious. At the time of completion
of this thesis a replacement, titanium-doped sapphire crystal has arrived. The first step is to
exchange the old crystal, increase the fluence of the pump lasers in the crystal and remove the
aberration compensation prior to the power amplifier. This should bring the output pulse energy
up to the 100 mJ level as designed. The old power amplifier crystal will be used to replace the
crystal in the pre-amplifier, as this is undersized. Although aberrated, only a small volume of
the crystal will be used and it will only be passed twice, so the aberrations imparted should be
small.
Further reduction of the pulse duration should be possible given the available bandwidth
after compression. In order to be able to do this, either a FROG or SPIDER must be built to
measure the output pulses. By doing this, the reason for the increase in pulse duration over
predicted values can be discovered. With further optimisation it should be possible to reduce
the pulse duration to the design duration of 40 fs, or even lower.
The further work that is required to bring the laser up to specification has now to be
scheduled. The laser is a working system and as I finish this thesis, the third experimental run is
under way to investigate the explosion of atomic clusters in the presence of a 60 fs high
intensity laser field.
As well as the publications already mentioned in this thesis that have arisen from my
modelling work ([Mason98a] and [Mason98b]), the following publications have been enabled

Summary, conclusions and further work

160
by work that I have carried out on the titanium-doped sapphire laser system: [Springate 00a],
[Springate 00b], [Tisch 99], [Hay 99], [Smith 99], [Tisch 98], [Tisch 97], [Ditmire 97c],
[Ditmire 97b] and [Ditmire 97a]. Also, my work has featured in the highly successful
Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC) programme grant number
GRL34334 and has formed a large part of the successful grant proposal for research over the
next four years (programme grant number GRN11292). As part of this proposal I shall be
working on, amongst other things, ray-tracing modelling for the implementation of a short-pulse
upgrade to the Laser Consortium glass-based laser, pulse tailoring on the titanium-doped
sapphire system, hollow fibre compression and/or optical parametric chirped pulse amplification
(OPCPA) and the construction of a SPIDER and/or FROG.

161
References
A
Antonetti 97 A Antonetti, F Blasco, JP Chambaret, G Cheriaux, G Darpentigny, C
LeBlanc, P Rousseau, S Ranc, G Rey and F Salin, A laser system
producing 5 10
19
Wcm
-2
at 10 Hz, Applied Physics B 65 197 (1997)
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