A CW seeded femtosecond optical parametric amplifier

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1 Science in China Ser. G Physics, Mechanics & Astronomy 2004 Vol.47 No A CW seeded femtosecond optical parametric amplifier ZHU Heyuan, XU Guang, WANG Tao, QIAN Liejia & FAN Dianyuan State Key Laboratory for Advanced Photonic Materials & Devices, Department of Optical Science and Engineering, Fudan University, Shanghai , China Correspondence should be addressed to Zhu Heyuan ( Received August 9, 2004 Abstract A CW seeded femtosecond optical parametric amplifier, a compromise between OPG/OPA and strongly seeded OPA configurations, has been demonstrated. An independent CW Nd YAG laser with sub-watt power decreases the pump threshold of the OPA and improves the stability of the output pulses considerably. Output signal energies as high as 30 µj with pulse durations less than 250 fs near 1 µm are reported from this two-stage device. Keywords: femtosecond, CW seeded, optical parametric amplification. DOI: /03yw Introduction Optical parametric amplification (OPA) based on femtosecond Ti:sapphire regenerative amplifiers has been widely adopted in wavelength extension of ultrashort optical pulses [1]. While BBO-based femtosecond optical parametric amplifiers have already commercialized, the tuning range of such an 800 nm-pumped OPA is typically between 1.15 µm and 2.6 µm due to the limited transparent range of BBO. From application s point of view, ultrashort pulses near 1 µm and between 3 and 4 µm are of great importance. Ultrashort pulses at µm can be used as a seed of a Nd:glass-based high power/energy amplification system, while femtosecond pulses in the range of 3 4 µm are highly desired in the photo-excited dynamic studies of numerous physical, chemical and biological systems. Several configurations of the femtosecond optical parametric amplifier have been developed. In the OPG/OPA configuration [2, 3], the nonlinear process is initiated by parametric fluorescence with a conical distribution of spectrum in space, which leads to unsatisfactory spectral and beam qualities of the output pulses. In some cases, a relatively high pump intensity has to be applied to reach the threshold of OPG, which might be quite close to the damage threshold of the nonlinear crystal. Typically, supercontinuum generation can be observed with OPG, which will affect the stability and safety

2 768 Science in China Ser. G Physics, Mechanics & Astronomy 2004 Vol.47 No of the device. Femtosecond supercontinuum-seeded OPA is a simple and economical technique [4], where beam of femtosecond pulses is tightly focused into Kerr medium to produce supercontinuum which is used as a seed of OPA. However, several complicated and uncontrollable high-order nonlinear processes are involved in the supercontinuum generation, and its irregular features of chirp will severely distort the output pulses. Meanwhile, the extremely high intensity might result in local damage in the Kerr medium, which will affect the beam quality and stability of the output pulses. In recent years, the technique of external seeding has been widely adopted in femtosecond optical parametric amplifiers, where external pulses with duration typically in the range of several to tens of nanoseconds are injected synchronously with the pump pulses into the OPA. Different types of seeding source, including synchronously-pumped OPO [5], nanosecond narrowband OPO [6], Q-switched Nd:YLF [7] and pulsed laser diode [8], etc., have been successfully used in such a configuration. The main advantage of the external seeding is to dramatically reduce the pump threshold of an OPA. Sufficiently high conversion efficiency was obtained even in a single-pass configuration. In principle, difference-frequency generation (DFG) is the starting mechanism in a seeded OPA, which can effectively suppress competing nonlinear processes at different angles and wavelengths, and thus can provide better spatial and spectral qualities. On the other hand, an externally seeded OPA has its own disadvantages. Two lasers, the pulsed seeding and pumping sources, have to be temporally synchronized, which is accomplished by externally triggering one of the sources by the other. Strictly speaking, they are not independent. Moreover, the tuning of such a device is quite complicated [6, 8]. In this paper we report a femtosecond optical parametric amplifier with seeding from a sub-watt CW Nd:YAG laser operating at 1064 nm. Since a CW seed was used, synchronization between the pump and seed sources was not required and the two sources were completely independent. Reduction of the pump threshold was observed with conversion efficiency comparable to that of the pulsed seeding cases. More promisingly, such a device can maintain direct tunability to some extent. 2 OPA system The OPA system was schematically shown in fig. 1. A commercial Ti:sapphire laser oscillator-regenerative amplifier (Spectra-Physics Spitfire II) with 500-µJ, 80-fs output pulses at a 1-kHz repetition rate operating at 800 nm was used as a pump source. A 1064 nm CW diode-pumped Nd YAG laser operating in the polarized TEM 00 mode served as a seed source, the output power of which can be varied continuously up to 500 mw. Two amplification stages were adopted, with double pass in each. For each stage, the beam path of the second pass deviated in the uncritical plane of the OPA crystal. Two 8-mm-thick and 6-mm-thick uncoated MgO LiNbO 3 crystals (supplied by CASTECH) both cut at ϑ = 46.5 for type I oo->e phase matching were used in the first and second stages, respectively. The pump beam was divided by a beam splitter with a reflectance of ~40%, and the two beams were telescoped to obtain the pump intensities of ~70

3 A CW seeded femtosecond optical parametric amplifier 769 GW/cm 2 and ~40 GW/cm 2 for the two stages, respectively. The cross section of the seed beam was slightly smaller than that of the pump beam. Fig. 1. Schematic diagram of the OPA. L, lens; BS, beam splitter; DC, dichroic mirror; NC, nonlinear crystal; Delay, optical delay line. Referring to the transparent ranges, KNbO 3, MgO LiNbO 3 and KTP all seem to be suitable for optical parametric amplification near 1 µm pumping at 800 nm. In femtosecond regime, however, we need to compromise the effective nonlinear coefficient and the group-velocity mismatches (GVM s) between pump, signal and idler pulses. Based on these considerations, MgO LiNbO 3 is thought to be more suitable than KNbO 3 and KTP. Fig. 2 shows the GVM s between the signal/idler pulses and the pump pulse which are sufficiently small within the vicinity of wavelength concerned. The spatial walk-off angle of the MgO LiNbO 3 was calculated to be ~1.6, the effect of which on the conversion efficiency was minor under the experimental conditions. 3 Experimental results and discussions Fig. 3 shows the dependence of the signal pulse energy on the seeding level with pumping conditions fixed. When a seed level over 100 mw was applied, the signal pulse energy began to saturate and ~30 µj was obtained, which is a 25% increment comparing to the unseeded case. Externally seeded OPA s developed so far basically have adopted pulsed seeds with high peak intensities, typically from hundreds to thousands of watts [7, 8]. Such a strongly-seeded scheme, however, has no direct tunability in the sense that one cannot change the output wavelength by rotating the nonlinear crystal(s) only. Tuning is accomplished by varying the wavelength of either the seeding source [6] or the pumping source [8] and adjusting the nonlinear crystal(s) correspondingly. This makes such a device practically complicated and inconvenient. In our design of OPA, the seed is a continuous-wave with maximum peak (average) power of ~500 mw which is 2 3 orders of magnitude lower than that typically used in the pulsed seeding cases. Saturation still can be reached by using a four-pass amplification configuration. The signal

4 770 Science in China Ser. G Physics, Mechanics & Astronomy 2004 Vol.47 No pulse train is given in the inset of fig. 3, which shows that the pulse-to-pulse fluctuation is better than ±5%. This stability was quite close to that of the pump source. More importantly, we found experimentally that such a weakly-seeded femtosecond OPA had a direct tunability to some extent. While the wavelength of the seed was fixed at 1064 nm, the amplified output signal was tunable from 1010 nm 1080 nm by only adjusting the orientations of the nonlinear crystals. Although we did not characterize the idler pulse, the experimental results of the signal pulse imply that a tuning range from 3.08 µm to 3.85 µm and pulse energy close to 10 µj can be expected for the idler pulse. This spectral range is particularly important for numerous studies of nonlinear optical spectroscopy in mid-infrared. Fig. 2. Inverse GVM in MgO:LiNbO 3 versus signal wavelength: 1/v s -1/v p (solid curve), 1/v i -1/v p (dotted curve). V s denote the signal (s), pump (p), and idler (i) group velocities. The pump wavelength is 800 nm. The corresponding idler wavelength is varied between 4 µm and µm. Fig. 3. Dependence of the signal pulse energy on the seeding level. Inset: Oscilloscope displays of the signal pulse train.

5 A CW seeded femtosecond optical parametric amplifier 771 As we know, a conventional OPG/OPA has direct tunability within the transparent range of the nonlinear crystal but typically needs quite high pumping intensities, while a strongly-seeded OPA can drastically decrease the pump threshold at the price of losing its direct tunability. Our weakly-seeded OPA, however, can be regarded as a compromise between these two configurations. It effectively decreases the pump threshold and meanwhile maintains direct tunability to some extent. Fig. 4 shows the typical autocorrelation trace and spectrum of the signal pulse, which gives the pulse duration of ~175 fs. The intense spike appeared in the measured spectrum is the CW seed background. Within the whole tuning range, signal pulse durations less than 250 fs were obtained. The resulted relatively broad pulse duration is attributed to the longer nonlinear crystals (i.e. larger GVM) used in the OPA. Fig. 4. Typical autocorrelation trace and spectrum (inset) of the output signal pulse. The narrow peak in the spectrum indicates the seeding wavelength at 1064 nm. 4 Conclusions In summary, we have demonstrated a CW seeded femtosecond optical parametric amplifier operating near 1 µm. This configuration compromises low pump threshold and direct tunability, and the seeding source is completely independent. Femtosecond pulses tunable within 1010 nm 1080 nm with pulse energy up to 30 µj and duration shorter than 250 fs were obtained with this scheme. Such a technique should also be attractive for generating tunable femtosecond mid-infrared pulses. Acknowledgements This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No ) and the 863 Project. References 1. Special Issue on Optical Parametric Devices, J. Opt. Soc. Am. B, 1995, 12: Nisoli, M., De Silvestri, S., Magni, V. et al., Highly efficient parametric conversion of femtosecond Ti:sapphire laser pulses at 1 KHz, Opt. Lett., 1994, 19:

6 772 Science in China Ser. G Physics, Mechanics & Astronomy 2004 Vol.47 No Petrov, V., Seifert, F., Noack, F., High repetition rate traveling wave optical parametric generator producing nearly bandwidth limited 50 fs infrared light pulses, Appl. Phys. Lett., 1994, 65: [DOI] 4. Reed, M. K., Shepard, M. K. S., Tunable infrared generation using a femtosecond 250 KHz Ti:sapphire regenerative amplifier, IEEE J. Quantum Electron., 1996, 32: [DOI] 5. Holtom, G. R., Crowell, R. A., Xie, X. S., High-repetition-rate femtosecond optical parametric oscillator-amplifier system near 3 µm, J. Opt. Soc. Am. B, 1995, 12: Lin, S. J., Tanaka, Y., Aono, M. et al., Optical parametric amplification using the phase matching retracing behavior in MgO:LiNbO 3 for generation of intense widely tunable mid-infrared pulses, Jpn. J. Appl. Phys., 1997, 36: [DOI] 7. Petrov, V., Noack, F., Tunable femtosecond optical parametric amplifier in the mid-infrared with narrow-band seeding, J. Opt. Soc. Am. B, 1995, 12: Rotermund, F., Petrov, V., Noack, F. et al., Laser-diode-seeded operation of a femtosecond optical parametric amplifier with MgO:LiNbO 3 and generation of 5-cycle pulses near 3 µm, J. Opt. Soc. Am. B, 1999, 16:

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