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CSIR makes another laser breakthrough

25 November 2009 News

CSIR (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research) laser scientists have made a breakthrough in the design of laser resonators, resulting in a technology that it believes could revolutionise the laser industry. The discovery has led to a submission to the Innovation Fund to prototype and commercialise the technology.

Chief scientist Dr Andrew Forbes of the CSIR National Laser Centre explains that the resonator is the core component of any laser and that laser beams are created within the laser resonator. “The shape and size of the resonator therefore determines the size and strength of the laser beams. Usually lasers will give out many beams of various shapes and sizes, each carrying some of the energy. The smallest beam that can be generated in a standard laser is the Gaussian beam.”

According to Forbes, Gaussian laser beams are in great demand for many applications due to their low rate of spreading as they propagate and their smooth intensity profile. They also facilitate communication with satellites, as the beams do not disperse when travelling through space.

“Unfortunately, the Gaussian laser beam occupies a small volume inside the laser, so the energy extracted from the laser in this beam is always low. For a long time it has been thought that only by ‘throwing away’ some of the energy of the medium, thereby restricting the size of laser beam that could survive, could the smallest beam – the Gaussian beam – be created,” says Forbes. Forbes and Igor Litvin, a PhD student at the CSIR, have shown that it is possible to overcome this limitation by not following the standard approach to designing laser resonators but by metamorphosising the desired beam at the output end of the laser, to a beam with better energy extraction qualities inside the resonator.

The metamorphosis also allows the Gaussian beam to be selected by using micro-optical elements, something that was previously thought impossible.

For more information contact Dr Andrew Forbes, CSIR, aforbes1@csir.co.za





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