A fiber laser or fibre laser is a laser in which the active gain medium is an optical fiber doped with rare-earth elements such as erbium, ytterbium, neodymium, dysprosium, praseodymium, and thulium. They are related to doped fiber amplifiers, which provide light amplification without lasing. Fiber nonlinearities, such as stimulated Raman scattering or four-wave mixing can also provide gain and thus serve as gain media for a fiber laser.
Applications of fiber lasers include material processing, telecommunications, spectroscopy, and medicine. The advantages of fiber lasers over other types include:
- Light is already coupled into a flexible fiber: The fact that the light is already in a fiber allows it to be easily delivered to a movable focusing element. This is important for laser cutting, welding, and folding of metals and polymers.
- High output power: Fiber lasers can have active regions several kilometers long, and so can provide very high optical gain. *They can support kilowatt levels of continuous output power because of the fiber's high surface area to volume ratio, which allows efficient cooling.
- High optical quality: The fiber's waveguiding properties reduce or eliminate thermal distortion of the optical path, typically producing a diffraction-limited, high-quality optical beam.
- Compact size: Fiber lasers are compact compared to rod or gas lasers of comparable power, because the fiber can be bent and coiled to save space.
- Reliability: Fiber lasers exhibit high vibrational stability, extended lifetime, and maintenance-free turnkey operation.
Design and manufacturing of fiber lasers Edit
Unlike most other types of lasers, the laser cavity in fiber lasers is constructed monolithically by fusion splicing different types of fiber; fiber Bragg gratings replace conventional dielectric mirrors to provide optical feedback. Another type is the single longitudinal mode operation of ultra narrow distributed feedback lasers (DFB) where a phase-shifted Bragg grating overlap the gain medium. Fiber lasers are pumped by semiconductor laser diodes or by other fiber lasers.
Double-clad fibers Edit
Many high-power fiber lasers are based on double-clad fiber. The gain medium forms the core of the fiber, which is surrounded by two layers of cladding. The lasing mode propagates in the core, while a multimode pump beam propagates in the inner cladding layer. The outer cladding keeps this pump light confined. This arrangement allows the core to be pumped with a much higher-power beam than could otherwise be made to propagate in it, and allows the conversion of pump light with relatively low brightness into a much higher-brightness signal. As a result, fiber lasers and amplifiers are occasionally referred to as "brightness converters."
There is an important question about the shape of the double-clad fiber; a fiber with circular symmetry seems to be the worst possible design. The design should allow the core to be small enough to support only a few (or even one) modes. It should provide sufficient cladding to confine the core and optical pump section over a relatively short piece of the fiber.
Power scaling Edit
Recent developments in fiber laser technology have led to a rapid and large rise in achieved diffraction-limited beam powers from diode-pumped solid-state lasers. Due to the introduction of large mode area (LMA) fibers as well as continuing advances in high power and high brightness diodes, continuous-wave single-transverse-mode powers from Yb-doped fiber lasers have increased from 100 W in 2001 to >20 kW.
Previously unattainable powers can now be achieved with commercially available off-the-shelf fibers and components. As a result, fiber laser technology is expected to have a profound effect on a broad variety of industrial applications. This white paper describes the technology in greater detail: "KW-power fiber lasers with single transverse mode output".
Fiber disk lasers Edit
3 fiber disk lasersMain article: Fiber disk laser Another type of fiber laser is the fiber disk laser. In such, the pump is not confined within the cladding of the fiber (as in the double-clad fiber), but pump light is delivered across the core multiple times because the core is coiled on itself like a rope. This configuration is suitable for power scaling in which many pump sources are used around the periphery of the coil.