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Novel fibre delivers ultrafast pulses

21 Jan 2009

Raydiance is developing a fibre to transport ultrashort pulses without damage.

The company has been awarded $500,000 for a Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) contract with the US Naval Air Warfare Centre. The STTR programme funds cooperative R&D projects involving a small company and a university, in this case the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

"We have been working with MIT for several years on this fibre technology," Raydiance president Scott Davison told optics.org. "We recently completed Phase 1 of the STTR to prove feasibility. Now Phase 2 aims to advance ultrafast performance to a level at which these lasers can be integrated into critical Navy missions as well as into lucrative commercial markets."

The company aims to continue the development of a fibre able to transmit the high power of ultrafast pulses without suffering damage. "The technical challenges involved in delivering ultrafast pulses in a useable fibre transport are considerable," said Davison. "These are pulses of immense peak energy, and once you have compressed these pulses into that highly energetic state they are very destructive. Putting such a compressed pulse into a traditional fibre would simply ablate the fibre."

The solution developed by the company and MIT is based on a hollow core fibre that can transmit the pulse without being damaged. "The big breakthrough is to get light across this very small flexible fibre without a great deal of loss, so that the pulses at the other end are not depleted and, most importantly, that the pulse shape is maintained," Davison noted.

The Navy is interested in ultrafast pulses because they can travel efficiently through the atmosphere for targeting, tracking, and sensing applications. "They have also supported this specific research because, in addition to pulse delivery, we can use the same fibre inside the laser as a compression device, turning the system into a very compact and small platform," said Davison.

Coming soon after the $20 million in financing announced by Raydiance late last year, the company believes that ultrafast technology is robust enough to attract funding even in tough economic times.

"Until recently this was very much a laboratory technology, producing light that was very interesting, but impractical," noted Davison. "Today, other companies are also moving into ultrafast platforms, but actually we like that. They are helping to build a sector. Companies are now realising that to achieve true athermal ablation processes, you need to be under that picosecond threshold, so people on the commercial and applications side are becoming attracted to ultrafast pulses as well."

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