Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Plasma mirrors generate high harmonics

For many researchers working with high-intensity lasers, plasma formation is often bad news. For others, it’s an enabling step for putting their laser systems to good use, in the form of so-called plasma mirrors. Now, collaborators at CEN Saclay (Gif-sur-Yvette, France), École Polytechnique (Palaiseau, France), and the University of Toronto (Toronto, Ont., Canada) have used a chain of plasma mirrors to create extreme-ultraviolet (EUV) pulses that they predict to be on the attosecond timescale, all with a tabletop laser.

In the highest intensity femtosecond-laser systems, a nanosecond-scale prepulse can be enough to ablate the surface of samples before most of the pulse energy arrives. Enter the plasma mirror, a simple but effective solution to increase the contrast between the prepulse and the main pulse. By placing a highly polished mirror blank in the beam at Brewster’s angle, the nanosecond-scale prepulse passes unchanged. The rising edge of the main pulse, however, converts the surface of the mirror into a highly reflective plasma, specularly reflecting only the main pulse. Once the prepulse is cleaned up by two plasma mirrors, a third forms the basis for high-order harmonic generation (HHG).

C. Thaury et al.,Nature Phys. doi:10.1038/nphys595 (2007).

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