Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Petawatt laser approaches diffraction limit

A French team has combined adaptive optics (AO) with an elaborate alignment system to effectively correct wavefront aberrations in a high peak-power laser, achieving focal spots close to the diffraction limit. "The optimization procedure produces a considerable improvement in focal spot quality with a Strehl ratio of 0.7 for full-energy kilojoule shots," Ji-Ping Zou of the LULI laboratory told "The procedure, once integrated into our control system, is straightforward and there are no operational penalties." (Applied Optics 47 704.)

Spatial phase and focal spot measurements using a low-energy pulsed probe before the fourth shot of a kJ shot sequence (5 shots, one shot every hour): a) and b): before and after the closed-loop convergence. c) Focal spot measurement during the fourth shot.

The LULI (Laboratoire pour l'Ulilisation des Lasers Intenses) laser delivers kilojoule pulses in the nanosecond range at 1053 nm, and is capable of reaching the petawatt regime through chirped pulse amplification.

The first category of aberrations is minimized by precise beam realignment between two successive shots, combined with a closed-loop AO system employing a bimorph deformable mirror with 32 actuators. An additional semi-automatic realignment of beam pointing and centring between shots controls the second category, while the AO system tackles the third group. The right is the schematic of the four amplification stages of the LULI2000. A bimorph deformable mirror is implemented between the second and the third stages. A wavefront sensor is positioned at the chain output.

The result has been reproducible focal spots close to the diffraction limit for full-energy kilojoule shots fired at one shot per hour. Zou's group has achieved a focal spot with a Strehl ratio - a measure of the fractional drop in light intensity as a function of wavefront error - of 0.7. The focal intensity can therefore reach 2.2 x 1018 W/cm2 in the kilojoule per nanosecond range, and intensities as high as 1021 W/cm2 are foreseen by Zou. Shot-to-shot reproducibility of the focal spot is said to be excellent, which is very important for laser-matter interaction experiments.