Ultra short laser pulses in the atmosphere

Frequency conversion and propagation phenomena of ultrashort laser pulses in the atmosphere

Emission pattern detection for better noise stabilization
Emission pattern detection for better noise stabilization
Spectral distribution of laser pulses through filamentation
Spectral distribution of laser pulses through filamentation
Deformable mirror as spatial pulse shaper
Deformable mirror as spatial pulse shaper


The filaments are generated with a femtosecond laser with a central wavelength of 800 nm and a repetition rate of 10 Hz. The pulse energy of the laser is in the range of 2 mJ to 20 mJ, so that for different optical setups essentially a single filament with a length of several meters can be generated. A specially developed evolutionary algorithm is used to control the pulse shapers and thus vary the parameters of the laser pulses. This allows important properties of the subsequently formed filaments to be changed, such as the strength of the emitted signal in different wavelength ranges or the structure of the spatial emission pattern.

By means of the evolutionary algorithm the structure of the laser pulses can be automatically optimised for any application or investigation (adaptive optimisation).  A feature of the algorithm used is a high stability against strong fluctuations of the measurement signal. Special image recognition methods (see Fig. 3) ensure that the emission patterns found during an optimisation are always "remembered" and can only be replaced by improved results, even in a noisy measurement environment.

The properties of the radiation generated by the filament can be examined in detail in the range of 0.4 to 5.3 µm in the single shot process. Complex emission patterns are measured with spatial and spectral resolution using special optical set-ups.


Ultra-short laser pulses investigate non-linear effects in air

Modern ultra-short pulse laser systems have made it possible for several years to directly investigate and use special non-linear effects in air. During the propagation of ultrashort, high-intensity laser pulses in the atmosphere, thin, long plasma channels are formed, so-called filaments.

The filaments have waveguide properties and make it possible to preserve the diameter and pulse duration of the laser pulses over long distances. The frequency spectrum of the laser radiation is thereby broadened.

The resulting broadband radiation ("white light") extends from the visible spectral range to the infrared range and is suitable for the investigation of atmospheric layers and air density distributions but also for the remote detection of aerosols and gases. However, due to very high peak intensity of the laser radiation inside the filaments, they also pose a high threat to eyes and sensors. Many properties of this novel light source, especially in the infrared range, are only partially known so far.  


The aim of the project is to evaluate the potential of the filaments as a possible infrared light source, to investigate the propagation phenomena of the generated infrared radiation in the atmosphere and to verify protection concepts against the broadband radiation. For this purpose, filaments are produced in a controlled manner in air and the resulting broadband infrared radiation is measured spatially and spectrally.

The aim is to find out to what extent the generation of infrared radiation can be controlled by adaptive pulse shaping. The control is achieved by modifying the structure of the laser pulses that produce the filaments in which the infrared radiation is generated. The spatial wavefront of the laser pulses is varied by a deformable mirror. The temporal energy distribution of the laser pulses can also be modified with an acousto-optical modulator.

Adaptive optimisation of femtosecond pulses has successfully produced stable infrared radiation

Emission of spirals during spiral propagation of two adjacent filaments

With the help of the adaptive optimisation of femtosecond pulses, infrared radiation in the range of 2 to 5 µm could be successfully and stably generated. The intensity of the generated radiation could be increased from below the detection threshold up to complete saturation of the detector by optimising the beam parameters. This corresponds to an increase in infrared radiation of several orders of magnitude.

During the measurements, a previously completely unknown emission behaviour of the filaments was also discovered - a spiral-shaped emission in the infrared which could be detected for the first time.  The spiral emission was then specifically investigated and the measurement results indicate that filaments can be produced which spread spirally in air.

2 Titanium Sapphire Laser System
© Fraunhofer IOSB
2 Titanium Sapphire Laser System

The femtosecond laboratory consists of 2 titanium-sapphire laser systems that can generate laser pulses of different strengths.

1 kHz Ti: Sa Laser System ("Femtopower Compact Pro") Specifications:

  • Central wavelength:     800 nm
  • Pulse energy:                   800 µJ
  • Pulse duration:                  30 fs
  • Repetition rate:                1 kHz
  • Use to study nonlinear interaction with matter (eye protection) 
  • Frequency conversion possible in the range from 470 nm to 11 µm (TOPAS, NDFG)

1 Hz Ti: Sa Laser System ("Terawatt Laser") Specifications:

  • Central wavelength:    800 nm
  • Pulse energy:        up to 60 mJ
  • Pulse duration:                  50 fs
  • Repetition rate:                10 Hz
  • Peak pulse powers in the terawatt range possible
  • Use for the study of nonlinear interaction with air or the atmosphere
  • Erzeugung und Untersuchung von Femtosekunden-Filamenten in Luft integrated adaptive optics (acousto-optic modulator and deformable mirror) enables the generation of optimized laser pulses



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