Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


A feeling for the (light) wave

A team at the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics has designed and built a simplified detector for the measurement of the waveforms of pulsed laser radiation.

A team in the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics (LAP) at the Max-Planck-Institute of Quantum Optics has taken another step toward the achievement of complete control over the waveform of pulsed laser light.

A mode-locked laser at the Max-Planck-Institute of Quantum Optics emits flashes of light that last for a few femtoseconds. A new glass-based phase detector now enables simpler and more precise control of their waveforms. (Graphic: Thorsten Naeser)

Together with colleagues based at LMU and the Technische Universität München (TUM), they have constructed a detector which provides a detailed picture of the waveforms of laser pulses that last for a few femtoseconds.

Unlike conventional gas-phase detectors, this one is made of glass, and measures the flow of electric current between two electrodes that is generated when the electromagnetic field associated with the laser pulse impinges on the glass.

The researchers can then deduce the precise waveform of the pulse from the properties of the induced current. Knowledge of the exact waveform of the femtosecond pulse in turn makes it possible to reproducibly generate light flashes that are a thousand times shorter – lasting only for attoseconds – and can be used to study ultrafast processes at the molecular and atomic levels (Nature Photonics, DOI:10.1038/nphoton.2013.348, 12 January 2014).

Modern mode-locked lasers are capable of producing extremely brief light flashes that last for only a few femtoseconds (1 fs is one-millionth of a billionth of a second). With durations of as little as 2.5 fs, such pulses correspond very few oscillations of the electromagnetic field, indeed to only 1 to 2 complete cycles, which are however preceded and followed by waves of lower amplitude that are rapidly attenuated. In laser physics it is often important to know more about the precise form of the high-amplitude oscillations, because this tells one the shape of the electromagnetic fields and allows them to be utilized in an optimal manner to probe ultrashort processes that occur at the level of molecules and atoms.

A team led by Prof. Ferenc Krausz and including his doctoral student Tim Paasch-Colberg has now developed a glass-based detector that allows one to accurately determine the form of the light waves that make up an individual femtosecond pulse. In the course of experiments performed over the past several years, physicists in the group have learned that when pulsed high-intensity laser light impinges on glass, it induces measurable amounts of electric current in the material (Nature, 3 January 2013). Krausz and his colleagues have now found that the direction of flow of the current generated by an incident femtosecond pulse is sensitively dependent on the exact form of its wave packet.

In order to calibrate the new glass detector, the researchers coupled their system with a conventional instrument used to measure waveforms of light. Since the energy associated with the laser pulse is sufficient to liberate bound electrons from atoms of a noble gas such as xenon, the “classical” detector measures the currents caused by the motions of these free electrons. But there is a catch – the measurements must be done in a high vacuum. By comparing the currents induced in the new solid-state detector with the data obtained using the conventional apparatus, the team was able to characterize the performance of their new glass-based set-up, so that it can now be used as a reliable phase detector for few-cycle femtosecond laser pulses. The new instrument enormously simplifies measurements in the domain of ultrafast physical processes, because one can dispense with the use of cumbersome vacuum chambers. Moreover, in its practical application the technique is much more straightforward than the methods available for the mapping of waveforms hitherto.

If the precise waveform of the femtosecond laser pulse is known, it becomes possible to reproducibly generate stable trains of ultrashort attosecond light flashes, each one a thousand times shorter than the pulse used to induce them. The composition of the attosecond flashes is in turn highly dependent on the exact shape of the femtosecond pulses. Attosecond flashes can be used to “photograph” the motions of electrons in atoms or molecules. In order to obtain high-resolution images, the length of the flashes must be tuned to take account of the material one wants to investigate.

Highly sensitive and reliable measurements of physical processes at the level of the microcosmos with the aid of single attosecond light flashes of known shape should become easier to perform because, thanks to the new glass-based phase detector, the source of the energy to drive them – the waveform of the laser pulses – can now be controlled much more easily than before. Thorsten Naeser

Original publication:

Tim Paasch-Colberg, Agustin Schiffrin, Nicholas Karpowicz, Stanislav Kruchinin, Özge Saglam, Sabine Keiber, Olga Razskazovskaya, Sascha Mühlbrandt, Ali Alnaser, Matthias Kübel, Vadym Apalkov, Daniel Gerster, Joachim Reichert, Tibor Wittmann, Johannes V. Barth, Mark I. Stockman, Ralph Ernstorfer, Vladislav S. Yakovlev, Reinhard Kienberger and Ferenc Krausz
Solid-state light-phase detector
Nature Photonics, DOI:10.1038/nphoton.2013.348, 12 January 2014
For more information please contact:
Tim Paasch-Colberg
Max-Planck-Institute of Quantum Optics
Hans-Kopfermann-Straße 1, 85748 Garching, Germany
Phone: +49 (0)89 / 32 905 -651
Prof. Ferenc Krausz
Chair of Experimental Physics, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München
Laboratory for Attosecond Physics
Director at the Max-Planck-Institute of Quantum Optics
Hans-Kopfermann-Straße 1
85748 Garching, Germany
Phone: +49 (0)89 / 32 905 -600
Dr. Olivia Meyer-Streng
Press & Public Relations
Max-Planck-Institute of Quantum Optics
Hans-Kopfermann-Straße 1, 85748 Garching, Germany
Phone: +49 (0)89 / 32 905 -213

Dr. Olivia Meyer-Streng | Max-Planck-Institut
Further information:

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht One-way roads for spin currents
23.05.2018 | Singapore University of Technology and Design

nachricht Tunable diamond string may hold key to quantum memory
23.05.2018 | Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: LZH showcases laser material processing of tomorrow at the LASYS 2018

At the LASYS 2018, from June 5th to 7th, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) will be showcasing processes for the laser material processing of tomorrow in hall 4 at stand 4E75. With blown bomb shells the LZH will present first results of a research project on civil security.

At this year's LASYS, the LZH will exhibit light-based processes such as cutting, welding, ablation and structuring as well as additive manufacturing for...

Im Focus: Self-illuminating pixels for a new display generation

There are videos on the internet that can make one marvel at technology. For example, a smartphone is casually bent around the arm or a thin-film display is rolled in all directions and with almost every diameter. From the user's point of view, this looks fantastic. From a professional point of view, however, the question arises: Is that already possible?

At Display Week 2018, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP will be demonstrating today’s technological possibilities and...

Im Focus: Explanation for puzzling quantum oscillations has been found

So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics

Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...

Im Focus: Dozens of binaries from Milky Way's globular clusters could be detectable by LISA

Next-generation gravitational wave detector in space will complement LIGO on Earth

The historic first detection of gravitational waves from colliding black holes far outside our galaxy opened a new window to understanding the universe. A...

Im Focus: Entangled atoms shine in unison

A team led by Austrian experimental physicist Rainer Blatt has succeeded in characterizing the quantum entanglement of two spatially separated atoms by observing their light emission. This fundamental demonstration could lead to the development of highly sensitive optical gradiometers for the precise measurement of the gravitational field or the earth's magnetic field.

The age of quantum technology has long been heralded. Decades of research into the quantum world have led to the development of methods that make it possible...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

Save the date: Forum European Neuroscience – 07-11 July 2018 in Berlin, Germany

02.05.2018 | Event News

Invitation to the upcoming "Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Big Data in Genomics and Medicine"

13.04.2018 | Event News

Unique scope of UV LED technologies and applications presented in Berlin: ICULTA-2018

12.04.2018 | Event News

Latest News

Research reveals how order first appears in liquid crystals

23.05.2018 | Life Sciences

Space-like gravity weakens biochemical signals in muscle formation

23.05.2018 | Life Sciences

NIST puts the optical microscope under the microscope to achieve atomic accuracy

23.05.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>