Scientists at the University of California San Diego have developed a breakthrough in laser material that is capable of emitting ultra-short, high-power pulses: a combination that has 24 times-higher thermal shock resistance than currently existing methods.
Engineers made the breakthrough - which can yield smaller, more powerful lasers with superior thermal shock resistance, broad tunability and high-duty cycles- after they devised new materials processing strategies to dissolve high concentrations of neodymium ions into alumina crystals.
The result is a neodymium-alumina laser gain medium; the first in the field of laser materials research.
This is classed as a breakthrough because neodymium and alumina are two of the most widely-used components in today's state-of-the-art solid-state laser materials. While neodymium ions, a type of light-emitting atoms, are used to make high-power lasers, alumina crystals (a type of host material for light-emitting ions) can yield lasers with ultra-short pulses.
It's this that gives them the advantage of high thermal shock resistance, meaning they can withstand rapid changes in temperature and high loads of heat.
However, combining neodymium and alumina to make a lasing medium has been a challenge in the scientific space because they are incompatible in size. Alumina crystals typically host small ions like titanium or chromium, and neodymium ions are too big.
"Until now, it has been impossible to dope sufficient amounts of neodymium into an alumina matrix," said Javier Garay, a mechanical engineering professor at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering.
"We figured out a way to create a neodymium-alumina laser material that combines the best of both worlds: high power density, ultra-short pulses and superior thermal shock resistance."
Next, the team is working on building a laser with their new material.
"[But] that will take more engineering work. Our experiments show that the material will work as a laser and the fundamental physics is all there," added Garay.
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