Patent number 8565272 is assigned to
The following quote was obtained by the news editors from the background information supplied by the inventors: "The present invention relates to laser systems. More specifically, the present invention relates to systems and methods for generating and amplifying laser energy.
"High energy and high power laser systems generate optical beams for applications such as laser weapons, industrial lasers for materials processing, and long range lidar/ladar systems. (Energy and power are related, but fundamentally different, physical parameters. The challenges in scaling lasers to higher energy and power are often similar, but not always so. The present invention can be adapted to either energy or power scaling. Throughout the remainder of this discussion, the term power will be used with the understanding that this invention can also be used to increase energy.) One of the most challenging problems for scaling laser output power has proven to be beam quality reduction, which arises from the increased cross-sectional area of the active medium, as well as from thermal effects, optical damage, and nonlinear processes that are initiated in the laser materials at high optical intensities.
"Solid-state lasers (SSLs) have many packaging advantages when compared to liquid or gas lasers. Diode pumped SSLs appear to be among the most power-efficient efficient laser designs. In general, there are two alternative routes to diode-pumped SSL systems today. Bulk active elements for SSL applications are shaped as rods or slabs, or, recently, as planar waveguides (PWGs) that allow for a large beam cross-section to eliminate optical damage and to provide a more favorable thermal geometry. Bulk elements are usually made of a heat conducting crystalline material to facilitate cooling. Large size crystals, however, suffer from poor optical quality, and are expensive to manufacture. This factor limits the power scalability of crystalline bulk systems.
"Active elements of SSLs can also be made from glass. Glass is inexpensive, clear, isotropic and a low-absorbing material. Cooling bulk glass elements is complicated, however, because of the low thermal conductivity of glass.
"The optical fiber configuration solves this thermal management problem: the large surface-area-to-volume ratio can maintain a low core temperature even at high lateral gradient. Fiber lasers have proven to be more power-effective SSL devices than bulk rods or slabs. They include a small active core that provides for excellent spatial overlap between absorbed pump power and the signal beam and ensures heavily saturated operation, both of which make fiber lasers highly efficient. Moreover, fibers can be designed to minimize power lost due to fluorescence and amplified spontaneous emission (ASE). In addition, fiber designs are compact, flexible, and lightweight. Exceptional power efficiency and significant packaging benefits have positioned fiber lasers as one of the most promising candidates for high power laser applications, including airborne high-energy weapons and lidar/ladar sensors.
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