To date, many commercial ultra-fast lasers – the kind that emit light in short pulses for laser machining or spectroscopy – have been based on solid-state technology using bulk optical components. However, they have several drawbacks, not least their large size and high production and maintenance costs – problems that can be solved by using optical fibre, rather than air, to carry the light.
“Fibre lasers could replace solid-state lasers for most uses, as well as open the door to new applications,” explains Mircea Guina, a researcher at the Tampere University of Technology in Finland.
Guina, the manager of the EU-funded Uranus project, foresees ultra-fast fibre lasers playing a key role in machining even smaller nanotechnology systems and in demonstrating practical new applications, such as optical coherence tomography, which is a 3D digital imaging technique used in medicine, among many other applications. “There are literally hundreds of uses,” he says.
The Uranus project proved fundamental in advancing the technology in Europe, allowing partner companies, such as laser manufacturers Fianium and Corelase, to take a leading role in the sector, and strengthening the position of Stratophase and NKT as suppliers of nonlinear crystals and photonic crystal fibres, respectively.A giant leap in four years
Broadly, the Uranus researchers’ two main goals were to develop ultra-fast laser systems operating at different wavelengths, and to develop and test broadband fibre sources. They achieved both goals, and even surpassed their own expectations.
“Our research broke new ground – the number of research papers we published is proof of that,” Guina says. For the more technical readers, Uranus’ major achievements include the first-ever demonstration of a so-called ‘mode-locked’ laser which uses a special fibre, ytterbium-doped photonic bandgap (Yb-PBG), as both a medium and method of compensating beam dispersion. This discovery contributed to the development of the first ‘supercontinuum fibre laser’ being sold as a ready-to-go system by Fianium.
“The supercontinuum source can generate pulses at all wavelengths,” explains Oleg Okhotnikov, the coordinator of the Uranus project. “For example, in the case of medical imaging you can select the wavelength you need from the broadband spectrum to detect a specific type of chromophore attached to a cancer cell.”
Such new applications are not the only benefit of ultra-fast fibre lasers. Compared to solid-state lasers, fibre systems are more efficient, smaller and cheaper to produce.
“Fibre is more efficient than air at getting the light to its target so it needs less power to achieve the same results as solid-state systems. It is also more stable and robust,” Okhotnikov says.Three times cheaper
“Production costs for a fibre laser are considerably less than for a solid-state system. A fibre 20-watt system operating at less than 15 picoseconds [one picosecond is one trillionth of a second] costs around €50,000 compared to the €150,000 price of a solid-state system,” Okhotnikov says.
It is therefore not surprising that increasing numbers of industries requiring lasers are switching to fibre – a boon for the project partners. In the last four years, UK-based Fianium has doubled turnover each year and quadrupled its number of full-time staff, while opening sales offices in Asia and the United States. Meanwhile, Corelase, another Uranus partner and developer of the X-lase high-powered fibre laser, was acquired by European application developer Rofin-Sinar in early 2007, due in part to the success of its work in the project.
Since the end of Uranus, the team have presented proposals for new projects in order to continue their research.
“We have come a long way in recent years, but there are still many more areas to explore,” Guina says.
Christian Nielsen | alfa
Japanese researchers develop ultrathin, highly elastic skin display
19.02.2018 | University of Tokyo
Why bees soared and slime flopped as inspirations for systems engineering
19.02.2018 | Georgia Institute of Technology
For the first time, a team of researchers at the Max-Planck Institute (MPI) for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, has succeeded in making an integrated circuit (IC) from just a monolayer of a semiconducting polymer via a bottom-up, self-assembly approach.
In the self-assembly process, the semiconducting polymer arranges itself into an ordered monolayer in a transistor. The transistors are binary switches used...
Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale
Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...
For photographers and scientists, lenses are lifesavers. They reflect and refract light, making possible the imaging systems that drive discovery through the microscope and preserve history through cameras.
But today's glass-based lenses are bulky and resist miniaturization. Next-generation technologies, such as ultrathin cameras or tiny microscopes, require...
Scientists from the University of Zurich have succeeded for the first time in tracking individual stem cells and their neuronal progeny over months within the intact adult brain. This study sheds light on how new neurons are produced throughout life.
The generation of new nerve cells was once thought to taper off at the end of embryonic development. However, recent research has shown that the adult brain...
Theoretical physicists propose to use negative interference to control heat flow in quantum devices. Study published in Physical Review Letters
Quantum computer parts are sensitive and need to be cooled to very low temperatures. Their tiny size makes them particularly susceptible to a temperature...
15.02.2018 | Event News
13.02.2018 | Event News
12.02.2018 | Event News
20.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
20.02.2018 | Life Sciences
20.02.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering