You are on page 1of 22

Laser amplifiers

:
Almost any laser active gain medium can be pumped to produce gain for light at the wavelength of a laser made with the same material as its gain medium. Such amplifiers are commonly used to produce high power laser systems. Special types such as regenerative amplifiers and chirped-pulse amplifiers are used to amplify ultrashort pulses.

Doped fiber amplifiers

Schematic diagram of a simple Doped Fiber Amplifier Doped fiber amplifiers (DFAs) are optical amplifiers that use a doped optical fiber as a gain medium to amplify an optical signal. They are related to fiber lasers. The signal to be amplified and a pump laser are multiplexed into the doped fiber, and the signal is amplified through interaction with the doping ions. The most common example is the Erbium Doped Fiber Amplifier (EDFA), where the core of a silica fiber is doped with trivalent Erbium ions and can be efficiently pumped with a laser at a wavelength of 980 nm or 1,480 nm, and exhibits gain in the 1,550 nm region. Amplification is achieved by stimulated emission of photons from dopant ions in the doped fiber. The pump laser excites ions into a higher energy from where they can decay via stimulated emission of a photon at the signal wavelength back to a lower energy level. The excited ions can also decay spontaneously (spontaneous emission) or even through nonradiative processes involving interactions with phonons of the glass matrix. These last two decay mechanisms compete with stimulated emission reducing the efficiency of light amplification. The amplification window of an optical amplifier is the range of optical wavelengths for which the amplifier yields a usable gain. The amplification window is determined by the spectroscopic properties of the dopant ions, the glass structure of the optical fiber, and the wavelength and power of the pump laser. Although the electronic transitions of an isolated ion are very well defined, broadening of the energy levels occurs when the ions are incorporated into the glass of the optical fiber and thus the amplification window is also broadened. This broadening is both homogeneous (all ions exhibit the same broadened spectrum) and inhomogeneous (different ions in different glass locations exhibit different spectra). Homogeneous broadening arises from the interactions with phonons of the glass, while inhomogeneous broadening is caused by differences in the glass sites where different ions are hosted. Different sites expose ions to different local electric fields, which shifts the energy levels via the Stark effect. In addition, the Stark effect also removes the degeneracy of energy states having the same total angular momentum (specified by the quantum number J). Thus, for example, the trivalent Erbium ion (Er+3) has a

ground state with J = 15/2, and in the presence of an electric field splits into J + 1/2 = 8 sublevels with slightly different energies. The first excited state has J = 13/2 and therefore a Stark manifold with 7 sublevels. Transitions from the J = 13/2 excited state to the J= 15/2 ground state are responsible for the gain at 1.5 µm wavelength. The gain spectrum of the EDFA has several peaks that are smeared by the above broadening mechanisms. The net result is a very broad spectrum (30 nm in silica, typically). The broad gain-bandwidth of fiber amplifiers make them particularly useful in wavelength-division multiplexed communications systems as a single amplifier can be utilized to amplify all signals being carried on a fiber and whose wavelengths fall within the gain window.

Basic principle of EDFA
A relatively high-powered beam of light is mixed with the input signal using a wavelength selective coupler. The input signal and the excitation light must be at significantly different wavelengths. The mixed light is guided into a section of fiber with erbium ions included in the core. This high-powered light beam excites the erbium ions to their higher-energy state. When the photons belonging to the signal at a different wavelength from the pump light meet the excited erbium atoms, the erbium atoms give up some of their energy to the signal and return to their lower-energy state. A significant point is that the erbium gives up its energy in the form of additional photons which are exactly in the same phase and direction as the signal being amplified. So the signal is amplified along its direction of travel only. This is not unusual - when an atom “lases” it always gives up its energy in the same direction and phase as the incoming light. Thus all of the additional signal power is guided in the same fiber mode as the incoming signal.There is usually an isolator placed at the output to prevent reflections returning from the attached fiber. Such reflections disrupt amplifier operation and in the extreme case can cause the amplifier to become a laser.

Noise
The principal source of noise in DFAs is Amplified Spontaneous Emission (ASE), which has a spectrum approximately the same as the gain spectrum of the amplifier. Noise figure in an ideal DFA is 3 dB, while practical amplifiers can have noise figure as large as 6–8 dB. As well as decaying via stimulated emission, electrons in the upper energy level can also decay by spontaneous emission, which occurs at random, depending upon the glass structure and inversion level. Photons are emitted spontaneously in all directions, but a proportion of those will be emitted in a direction that falls within the numerical aperture of the fiber and are thus captured and guided by the fiber. Those photons captured may then interact with other dopant ions, and are thus amplified by stimulated emission. The initial spontaneous emission is therefore amplified in the same manner as the signals, hence the term Amplified Spontaneous Emission. ASE is emitted by the amplifier in both the forward and reverse directions, but only the forward ASE is a direct concern to system performance since that noise will co-propagate with the signal to the receiver where it degrades system performance. Counter-propagating ASE can, however, lead to degradation of the amplifier's performance since the ASE can deplete the inversion level and thereby reduce the gain of the amplifier.

Gain saturation

This effect is known as gain saturation – as the signal level increases. This is called Polarization Dependent Gain (PDG). To achieve optimum noise performance DFAs are operated under a significant amount of gain compression (10 dB typically). in optical fibers small amounts of birefringence are always present and. but are typically less than 1 nm at the short wavelength end of the C-band. though. the amplifier saturates and cannot produce any more output power. thereby reducing ASE. The inversion level of a DFA is set. to a small extent. The leading edge of the pulse is amplified. Polarization effects Although the DFA is essentially a polarization independent amplifier. Also. long enough to already show this randomness of the birefringence axes. Fortunately. thus tending to average out the . The random distribution of the orientation of the ellipsoids in a glass produces a macroscopically isotropic medium. This effect is known as Spectral hole burning because a high power signal at one wavelength can 'burn' a hole in the gain for wavelengths close to that signal by saturation of the inhomogeneously broadened ions. a small proportion of the dopant ions interact preferentially with certain polarizations and a small dependence on the polarization of the input signal may occur (typically < 0. These two combined effects (which in transmission fibers give rise to polarization mode dispersion) produce a misalignment of the relative polarizations of the signal and pump lasers along the fiber. by the power of the pump wavelength and the power at the amplified wavelengths. those excited ions aligned with the signal field produce more stimulated emission. Another advantage of operating the DFA in the gain saturation region is that small fluctuations in the input signal power are reduced in the output amplified signal: smaller input signal powers experience larger (less saturated) gain.5 dB). or the pump power decreases. As the signal power increases. Saturation is also commonly known as gain compression. furthermore. The depth of the holes are very small. primarily. in an inhomogeneous manner. the inversion level will reduce and thereby the gain of the amplifier will be reduced.e. the gain spectrum has an inhomogeneous component and gain saturation occurs. the fast and slow axes vary randomly along the fiber length. The absorption and emission crossections of the ions can be modeled as ellipsoids with the major axes aligned at random in all directions in different glass sites. since that reduces the rate of spontaneous emission. but a strong pump laser induces an anisotropic distribution by selectively exciting those ions that are more aligned with the optical field vector of the pump. the width (FWHM) of the pulse is reduced. In some condition. A typical DFA has several tens of meters. whether the two lasers are interacting with the same sub-set of dopant ions or not. Spectral holes vary in width depending on the characteristics of the optical fiber in question and the power of the burning signal. Inhomogeneous broadening effects Due to the inhomogeneous portion of the linewidth broadening of the dopant ions. until the saturation energy of the gain medium is reached. making it difficult to observe in practice. In an ideal doped fiber without birefringence.Gain is achieved in a DFA due to population inversion of the dopant ions. The change in gain is thus dependent on the alignment of the polarizations of the pump and signal lasers – i. and a few nm at the long wavelength end of the C-band. while larger input powers see less gain. the PDG would be inconveniently large. and therefore the gain reduces.

from the University of Southampton and a group from AT&T Bell Laboratories. Desurvire. R. The longer length of fiber allows a lower inversion level to be used. operating near 1 micrometre wavelength. Recent designs include antireflective coatings and tilted waveguide and window regions which can reduce endface reflection to less than 0.PDG. The result is that PDG is very difficult to observe in a single amplifier (but is noticeable in links with several cascaded amplifiers).[1] The EDFA was first demonstrated several years later [2] by a group including David N. and L. Becker. Simpson. EDFAs have two commonly-used pumping bands – 980 nm and 1480 nm. E. those regions have not seen any significant commercial use so far and so those amplifiers have not been the subject of as much development as the EDFA. Two bands have developed in the third transmission window – the Conventional. However. from approximately 1570 nm to 1610 nm. P. J. California. from approximately 1525 nm – 1565 nm. . Reekie.001%. in the early 1980s.and L-band amplifiers is that a longer length of doped fiber is used in L-band amplifiers. each optimized for one of the bands. Ytterbium doped fiber lasers and amplifiers. and the Long. but broader. Both of these bands can be amplified by EDFAs.[3] Doped fiber amplifiers for other wavelength ranges Thulium doped fiber amplifiers have been used in the S-band (1450–1490 nm) and Praseodymium doped amplifiers in the 1300 nm region. as these devices can be made with extremely high output power (tens of kilowatts). Shaw and Michel Digonnet at Stanford University. Payne. Erbium-doped fiber amplifiers The erbium-doped fiber amplifier (EDFA) is the most deployed fiber amplifier as its amplification window coincides with the third transmission window of silica-based optical fiber. Since this creates a loss of power from the cavity which is greater than the gain it prevents the amplifier from acting as a laser. The 1480 nm band has a lower. absorption cross-section and is generally used for higher power amplifiers. but it is normal to use two different amplifiers. The absorption band is relatively narrow and so wavelength stabilised laser sources are typically needed. The optical fiber amplifier was invented by H. Mears. The principal difference between C. have many applications in industrial processing of materials. However. or L-band. or C-band. Semiconductor optical amplifier Semiconductor optical amplifiers (SOAs) are amplifiers which use a semiconductor to provide the gain medium. thereby giving at longer wavelengths (due to the band-structure of Erbium in silica) while still providing a useful amount of gain. A combination of 980 nm and 1480 nm pumping is generally utilised in amplifiers.[4] These amplifiers have a similar structure to Fabry–Pérot laser diodes but with anti-reflection design elements at the endfaces. and J. The 980 nm band has a higher absorption cross-section and is generally used where low-noise performance is required.

so that the gain reacts rapidly to changes of pump or signal power and the changes of gain also cause phase changes which can distort the signals. These devices are similar in structure to. vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers (VCSELs). this effectively limits operation of the VCSOA to single-channel amplification. However it provides the possibility for gain in different wavelength regions from the EDFA. and pattern recognition. VCSOAs can be seen as amplifying filters. High optical nonlinearity makes semiconductor amplifiers attractive for all optical signal processing like all-optical switching and wavelength conversion. It can be potentially less expensive than the EDFA and can be integrated with semiconductor lasers. However. The semiconductor optical amplifier is of small size and electrically pumped.Semiconductor optical amplifiers are typically made from group III-V compound semiconductors such as GaAs/AlGaAs. operating at signal wavelengths between 0. these devices exhibit very low singlepass gain (typically on the order of a few percent) and also a very large free spectral range (FSR). These MEMS-tunable vertical-cavity SOAs utilize a microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) based tuning mechanism for wide and continuous . moderate polarization dependence and high nonlinearity with fast transient time. low noise figure. VCSOAs are resonant cavity optical amplifiers that operate with the input/output signal entering/exiting normal to the wafer surface. wavelength conversion and four wave mixing) can be conducted. including low power consumption. coupled with the large FSR of the optical cavity. There has been much research on semiconductor optical amplifiers as elements for optical signal processing. Due to the extremely short cavity length. the use of the resonant cavity structure results in a very narrow gain bandwidth. and correspondingly thin gain medium. though promising preamplifier results have been demonstrated. Furthermore. the surface normal operation of VCSOAs leads to a number of advantages. InP/InGaAsP and InP/InAlGaAs. With VCSOAs.85 µm and 1. reduced feedback is necessary to prevent the device from reaching lasing threshold. The main advantage of SOA is that all four types of nonlinear operations (cross gain modulation. The SOA has higher noise. wavelength conversion. These devices are still in the early stages of research. The small single-pass gain requires relatively high mirror reflectivities to boost the total signal gain. and share many features with. Thus. and the ability to fabricate high fill factor two-dimensional arrays on a single semiconductor chip.[5] This originates from the short nanosecond or less upper state lifetime. signal demultiplexing. the performance is still not comparable with the EDFA. SOA can be run with a low power laser. cross phase modulation. though any direct band gap semiconductors such as II-VI could conceivably be used. Vertical-cavity SOA A recent addition to the SOA family is the vertical-cavity SOA (VCSOA). etc. clock recovery. lower gain. In addition to boosting the total signal gain. Further extensions to VCSOA technology are the demonstration of wavelength tunable devices.6 µm and generating gains of up to 30 dB. Such amplifiers are often used in telecommunication systems in the form of fiber-pigtailed components. This nonlinearity presents the most severe problem for optical communication applications. Given their vertical-cavity geometry. polarization insensitive gain. InP/InGaAs. In addition to their small size. The major difference when comparing VCSOAs and VCSELs is the reduced mirror reflectivities used in the amplifier cavity. "Linear optical amplifiers" using gain-clamping techniques have been developed. modulators.

Ti:sapphire). this type finds its main application in expanding the frequency tunability of ultrafast solid-state lasers (e. Raman amplifier Main article: Raman amplification In a Raman amplifier. which is in the order of 1 to 100ps. shorter length of fiber to provide amplification. may use over 1W of optical power. with in excess of 500 mW being required to achieve useful levels of gain in a distributed amplifier. The pump light may be coupled into the transmission fiber in the same direction as the signal (co-directional pumping). Contra-directional pumping is more common as the transfer of noise from the pump to the signal is reduced. thereby increasing the length of spans between amplifier and regeneration sites.g. BBO). in the opposite direction (contra-directional pumping) or both. A distributed Raman amplifier is one in which the transmission fiber is utilised as the gain medium by multiplexing a pump wavelength with signal wavelength.tuning of the peak gain wavelength of the amplifier. The amplification bandwidth of Raman amplifiers is defined by the pump wavelengths utilised and so amplification can be provided over wider. Optical parametric amplifier An optical parametric amplifier allows the amplification of a weak Signal-Impulse in a noncentrosymmetric nonlinear medium (e. By using a noncollinear interaction geometry Optical Parametric Amplifiers are capable of extremely broad amplification bandwidth Stimulated emission . Lumped amplifiers. where the pump light can be safely contained to avoid safety implications of high optical powers. Note: The text of an earlier version of this article was taken from the public domain Federal Standard 1037C. There are two types of Raman amplifier: distributed and lumped. In contrast to the previously mentioned amplifiers. SOAs has a more rapid gain response. while a lumped Raman amplifier utilises a dedicated.g. which are mostly used in telecommunication environments. regions than may be possible with other amplifier types which rely on dopants and device design to define the amplification 'window'. the signal is intensified by Raman amplification. Unlike the EDFA and SOA the amplification effect is achieved by a nonlinear interaction between the signal and a pump laser within an optical fiber. The pump power required for Raman amplification is higher than that required by the EDFA. The principal advantage of Raman amplification is its ability to provide distributed amplification within the transmission fiber. and different. In the case of a lumped Raman amplifier highly nonlinear fiber with a small core is utilised to increase the interaction between signal and pump wavelengths and thereby reduce the length of fiber required.

A photon created in this manner has the same phase. Thus. laser amplifiers and superluminescent sources also function on the basis of stimulated emission.From Wikipedia.1 Small signal gain equation o 4. Such a gain medium. the free encyclopedia Jump to: navigation. This is in contrast to spontaneous emission which occurs without regard to the ambient electromagnetic field. or the quantum-mechanics of matter. two of which are shown below: . In normal media at thermal equilibrium.4 Small signal approximation o 4. However the process is identical in form to atomic absorption in which the energy of an absorbed photon causes an identical but opposite atomic transition: from the lower level to a higher energy level. absorption exceeds stimulated emission because there are more electrons in the lower energy states than in the higher energy states. transferring its energy to that field. frequency. polarization. However when a population inversion is present the rate of stimulated emission exceeds that of absorption. and direction of travel as the photons of the incident wave. without reference to either photons.[2] Contents       1 Overview 2 Mathematical model 3 Stimulated emission cross section 4 Optical amplification o 4. electrons are found in specific energy levels of an atom. wherein the emission is described in terms of photons that are the quanta of the EM field. search In optics. Stimulated emission can also be described classically however. stimulated emission is the process by which an atomic electron (or an excited molecular state) interacting with an electromagnetic wave of a certain frequency may drop to a lower energy level. Stimulated emission was a theoretical discovery by Einstein [1] within the framework of quantum mechanics. However.5 Large signal asymptotic behavior 5 References 6 See also Overview Electrons and how they interact with electromagnetic fields are important in our understanding of chemistry and physics. along with an optical resonator. In the classical view. Lacking a feedback mechanism.3 General gain equation o 4.2 Saturation intensity o 4. quantum mechanical effects force electrons to take on discrete positions in orbitals. is at the heart of a laser or maser. and a net optical amplification can be achieved. the energy of an electron orbiting an atomic nucleus is larger for orbits further from the nucleus of an atom.

but the individual photons would have no common phase relationship and would emanate in random directions. An electron in an excited state may decay to a lower energy state which is not occupied. Such a transition to the higher state is called absorption. This leads to emission lines and absorption lines. this is the process of stimulated emission. A material with many atoms in such an excited state may thus result in radiation which is very spectrally limited (centered around one wavelength of light). it will not stay that way forever. and this dipole oscillates at a characteristic frequency. An external electromagnetic field at a frequency associated with a transition can affect the quantum mechanical state of the atom. The phase associated with the photon that is emitted is random. produces an additional photon. emitting a photon. with energies E1 and E2 respectively. and which acts like a small electric dipole. and it destroys an incident photon (the photon's energy goes into powering the increased energy of the higher state). In response to the external electric field at this frequency. But transitions are only allowed in between discrete energy levels such as the two shown above. according to a particular time constant characterizing that transition. . Mathematical model Stimulated emission can be modelled mathematically by considering an atom that may be in one of two electronic energy states. however. As the electron in the atom makes a transition between two stationary states (neither of which shows a dipole field). A transition from the higher to a lower energy state. that is called "spontaneous emission". This is the mechanism of fluorescence and thermal emission. it receives that incident quanta of energy. the rate of transitions between two stationary states is enhanced beyond that due to spontaneous emission. When such an electron decays without external influence.When an electron absorbs energy either from light (photons) or heat (phonons). it enters a transition state which does have a dipole field. When an electron is excited from a lower to a higher energy level. a lower level state (possibly the ground state) (1) and an excited state (2). the probability of the atom entering this transition state is greatly increased. Thus.

and ρ(ν) is the radiation density of the incident field at frequency ν. if the excited-state atom is perturbed by an electric field of frequency . there must be more atoms in the excited state than in the lower level: . N1.If the atom is in the excited state. Einstein showed that the coefficient for this transition must be identical to that for stimulated emission: . Thus absorption and stimulated emission are reverse processes proceeding at somewhat different rates. Alternatively. The rate of emission is thus proportional to the number of atoms in the excited state N2. there will be a process of atomic absorption which removes energy from the field while raising electrons from the lower state to the upper state. This process is known as stimulated emission. leaving the atom in the lower energy state. given above: . In a group of such atoms. The net rate of transitions from E2 to E1 due to this combined process can be found by adding their respective rates. Otherwise . given approximately by: where h is Planck's constant. In order for this to be a positive number. and to the density of incident photons. At the same time. releasing the difference in energies between the two states as a photon. it may emit an additional photon of the same frequency and in phase. the rate at which stimulated emission occurs is given by: where the proportionality constant B21 is known as the Einstein B coefficient for that particular transition. thus augmenting the external field. The rate of absorption is thus proportional to the number of atoms in the lower state. indicating net stimulated emission. it may decay into the lower state by the process of spontaneous emission. Thus a net power is released into the electric field equal to the photon energy hν times this net transition rate. Another way of viewing this is to look at the net stimulated emission or absorption viewing it as a single process. if the number of atoms in the excited state is given by N2. Its rate is given by an essentially identical equation: . The photon will have frequency ν and energy hν.

optical amplification of incident radiation will take place. polarization. Considering only homogeneous broadening affecting an atomic or molecular resonance. Although energy generated by stimulated emission is always at the exact frequency of the field which has stimulated it. The notable characteristic of stimulated emission compared to everyday light sources (which depend on spontaneous emission) is that the emitted photons have the same frequency. the spectral line shape function is described as a Lorentzian distribution: where is the full width at half maximum or FWHM bandwidth. therefore. a rather unusual condition that must be effected in the gain medium of a laser. .there is net absorption and the power of the wave is reduced during passage through the medium. The special condition is known as a population inversion. most notably due to the Doppler effect resulting from the distribution of velocities in a gas at a certain temperature. Stimulated emission cross section The stimulated emission cross section (in square meters) is . In a practical problem the full line shape function can be computed through a convolution of the individual line shape functions involved. When a population inversion ( ) is present. phase. At frequencies offset from the strength of stimulated (or spontaneous) emission will be decreased according to the socalled "line shape". the above rate equation refers only to excitation at the particular optical frequency corresponding to the energy of the transition. The peak value of the Lorentzian line shape occurs at the line center. Thus stimulated emission at frequencies away from is reduced by this factor. In practice there may also be broadening of the line shape due to inhomogeneous broadening. Therefore optical amplification will add power to an incident optical field at frequency at a rate given by: . This has a Gaussian shape and reduces the peak strength of the line shape function. in the case of a Lorentzian we obtain: . A line shape function can be normalized so that its value at is unity. and direction of propagation as the incident photons. The photons involved are thus mutually coherent.

phase. Small signal gain equation The intensity (in watts per square meter) of the stimulated emission is governed by the following differential equation: as long as the intensity I(z) is small enough so that it does not have a significant effect on the magnitude of the population inversion. n is the refractive index of the medium (dimensionless). resulting in an amplification of the input intensity.where A21 is the Einstein A coefficient (in radians per second). in units of atoms per cubic meter. stimulated emission can provide a physical mechanism for optical amplification. We can solve the differential equation using separation of variables: . and g(ν) is the spectral line shape function (in seconds). respectively. and direction. The population inversion. the photons stimulate the excited atoms to emit additional photons of the same frequency. Grouping the first two factors together. creating what is called a population inversion. this equation simplifies as where is the small-signal gain coefficient (in units of radians per meter). Optical amplification Under certain conditions. An external source of energy stimulates atoms in the ground state to transition to the excited state. λ is the wavelength (in meters). When light of the appropriate frequency passes through the inverted medium. is where g1 and g2 are the degeneracies of energy levels 1 and 2.

derives from the general differential equation for the intensity I as a function of position z in the gain medium: where is saturation intensity. is the frequency in Hz General gain equation The general form of the gain equation. Saturation intensity The saturation intensity IS is defined as the input intensity at which the gain of the optical amplifier drops to exactly half of the small-signal gain. intensity I and position z: .Integrating. which applies regardless of the input intensity. which depends[citation needed] on the spontaneous emission lifetimes of the various transitions between the energy levels related to the amplification. we find: or where is the optical intensity of the input signal (in watts per square meter). We can compute the saturation intensity as where h is Planck's constant. we first rearrange the equation in order to separate the variables. To solve. and τS is the saturation time constant.

we obtain or The gain G of the amplifier is defined as the optical intensity I at position z divided by the input intensity: Substituting this definition into the prior equation. in other words. Large signal asymptotic behavior For large input signals.Integrating both sides. then the general gain equation gives the small signal gain as or which is identical to the small signal gain equation (see above). we find the general gain equation: Small signal approximation In the special case where the input signal is small compared to the saturation intensity. where the gain approaches unity .

with energy E1. each of which is capable of being in one of two energy states. it is necessary to understand some thermodynamics and the way that light interacts with matter.and the general gain equation approaches a linear asymptote: Population inversion From Wikipedia. The ground state. . a population inversion occurs when a system (such as a group of atoms or molecules) exists in a state with more members in an excited state than in lower energy states. Contents        1 Boltzmann distributions and thermal equilibrium 2 The interaction of light with matter o 2. or 2. search In physics. The excited state.2 Spontaneous emission o 2.3 Stimulated emission 3 Selection rules 4 Creating a population inversion o 4. the free encyclopedia Jump to: navigation. The concept is of fundamental importance in laser science because the production of a population inversion is a necessary step in the workings of a standard laser. it is useful to consider a very simple assembly of atoms forming a laser medium.1 Three-level lasers o 4. with E2 > E1. either 1.1 Absorption o 2.2 Four-level lasers 5 Other methods of creating a population inversion 6 See also 7 References Boltzmann distributions and thermal equilibrium To understand the concept of a population inversion. To do so. with energy E2. specifically statistical mechanics. Assume there are a group of N atoms.

The interaction of light with matter There are three types of possible interactions between a system of atoms and light that are of interest: Absorption Main article: Absorption (optics) If light (photons) of frequency ν12 pass through the group of atoms. i.e. and kT ≈ 0. given by determines the characteristic frequency ν12 of light which will interact with the atoms. and the number in the excited state N2. there is a possibility of the light being absorbed by atoms which are in the ground state. If the group of atoms is in thermal equilibrium. When in thermal equilibrium.. To achieve population inversion therefore requires pushing the system into a non-equilibrated state.The number of these atoms which are in the ground state is given by N1. there are almost no atoms in the excited state. and this is the normal state of the system.E1 ≈ 2. Since there are N atoms in total. As T increases. it is seen that the lower energy state is more populated than the higher energy state. the populations N2 and N1 become equal. In this case ΔE = E2 .026 eV. and as such N2/N1 is vanishingly small. the number of electrons in the high-energy state (N2) increases. at infinite temperature. This is given by the relation h being Planck's constant. but N2 never exceeds N1 for a system at thermal equilibrium. Since E2 . then. a population inversion (N2/N1 > 1) can never exist for a system at thermal equilibrium. In other words.07 eV. rather. it follows that the argument of the exponential in the equation above is a large negative number. which will cause them to be . The energy difference between the two states.E1 ≫ kT. it can be shown from thermodynamics that the ratio of the number of atoms in each state is given by a Boltzmann distribution: where T is the thermodynamic temperature of the group of atoms. and k is Boltzmann's constant. We may calculate the ratio of the populations of the two states at room temperature (T ≈ 300 K) for an energy difference ΔE that corresponds to light of a frequency corresponding to visible light (ν ≈ 5×1014 Hz).

Spontaneous emission Main article: Spontaneous emission If a collection of atoms are in the excited state. in other words. and there is no fixed phase relationship between photons emitted from a group of excited atoms. spontaneous decay events to the ground state will occur at a rate proportional to N2. and is called stimulated emission. spontaneous emission is incoherent. it may be perturbed by the passage of a photon that has a frequency ν21 corresponding to the energy gap ΔE of the excited state to ground state transition. The energy difference between the two states ΔE21 is emitted from the atom as a photon of frequency ν21 as given by the frequency-energy relation above. the excited atom relaxes to the ground state. In the absence of other processes. an excited atom will act like a small electric dipole which will oscillate with the external field provided. . is given by where N2(0) is the number of excited atoms at time t = 0. Specifically. The photons are emitted stochastically. In this case. the number of atoms in the excited state at time t. When this happens due to the presence of the electromagnetic field from a photon. One of the consequences of this oscillation is that it encourages electrons to decay to the lowest energy state. and so the result is two photons of the same frequency. N1 . The probability of absorption is proportional to the radiation intensity of the light. and is induced to produce a second photon of frequency ν21. a photon is released in the same phase and direction as the "stimulating" photon. and also to the number of atoms currently in the ground state. Stimulated emission Main article: Stimulated emission If an atom is already in the excited state. and τ21 is the lifetime of the transition between the two states. The original photon is not absorbed by the atom.excited to the higher energy state. This process is known as stimulated emission. the number of atoms in the excited state.

N1 and N2. when the numbers of atoms in the ground and excited states are equal. If the number of photons being amplified per unit time is greater than the number of photons being absorbed. ν. If the ground state has a higher population than the excited state (N1 > N2). releasing incoherent light as photons of frequency. this results in optical amplification. and the radiation density of the light. It is this property that allows optical amplification. releasing another coherent photon. In effect. In other words. It is thus clear that to produce a faster rate of stimulated emissions than absorptions. respectively. and the photons are lost to the laser process. The critical detail of stimulated emission is that the induced photon has the same frequency and phase as the incident photon. Initially. Therefore. These photons are fed back into the laser medium. Recall from the descriptions of absorption and stimulated emission above that the rates of these two processes are proportional to the number of atoms in the ground and excited states. the laser medium is said to have a gain of greater than unity. it is . the rate of stimulated emission is equal to the rate of absorption for a given radiation density. the medium is then said to be optically transparent. described below. some photons cause stimulated emission in excited-state atoms. the rate of absorption of light exactly balances the rate of emission. and light in the system undergoes a net increase in intensity. Some of these atoms decay via spontaneous emission.The rate at which stimulated emission occurs is proportional to the number of atoms N2 in the excited state. the process of absorption dominates and there is a net attenuation of photons. usually by an optical resonator. Some of these photons are absorbed by the atoms in the ground state. If the higher energy state has a greater population than the lower energy state (N1 < N2). The base probability of a photon causing stimulated emission in a single excited atom was shown by Albert Einstein to be exactly equal to the probability of a photon being absorbed by an atom in the ground state. If the populations of the two states are the same (N1 = N2). the two photons are coherent. atoms are energized from the ground state to the excited state by a process called pumping. all three light-matter interactions described above are taking place. then the net result is a continuously increasing number of photons being produced. then the emission process dominates. and the production of a laser system. However. During the operation of a laser.

is essential to the technique of optical pumping of lasers. Radiationless transition between levels. such as interactions with the crystal lattice. Creating a population inversion As described above. In real materials other effects. and an intermediate state with S = 1. an excited state with S = 0. an equal population of the two states. as we will see. The existence of intermediate states in materials.required that the ratio of the populations of the two states is such that N2/N1 > 1. a population inversion is required for laser operation. such as between the excited S = 0 and S = 1 states. a population inversion is required for laser operation. At best. Selection rules Main article: Selection rule Many transitions involving electromagnetic radiation are strictly forbidden under quantum mechanics. Three-level lasers . N1 = N2 = N/2. The transition from the intermediate state to the ground state by emission of light is slow because of the selection rules. Transitions which do not involve the absorption or emission of radiation are not affected by selection rules. resulting in optical transparency but no net optical gain. For instance. In contrast fluorescence in materials is characterized by emission which ceases when the external illumination is removed. The allowed transitions are described by so-called selection rules. In other words. transitions are only allowed if ΔS = 0. In these systems the forbidden transitions can occur. intervene to circumvent the formal rules. S being the total spin angular momentum of the system. can be achieved. In fact. but cannot be achieved in our theoretical group of atoms with two energy-levels when they are in thermal equilibrium. any method by which the atoms are directly and continuously excited from the ground state to the excited state (such as optical absorption) will eventually reach equilibrium with the de-exciting processes of spontaneous and stimulated emission. Thus emission may continue after the external illumination is removed. A classic example is phosphorescence where a material has a ground state with S = 0. may proceed quickly enough to siphon off a portion of the S = 0 population before it spontaneously returns to the ground state. which describe the conditions under which a radiative transition is allowed. but usually at slower rates than allowed transitions.

an indirect method of populating the excited state must be used. N2. such that N3 > 0. and E3. may be used. A population inversion (N2 > N1 ) has thus been achieved between level 1 and 2. the process of optical absorption will excite the atoms from the ground state to level 3. without the generation of a photon. τ21 is much longer than the lifetime of the radiationless 3 → 2 transition τ32 (if τ21 ≫ τ32. Again consider a group of N atoms. 2 and 3. The energy released in this transition may be emitted as a photon (spontaneous emission). the system of atoms is at thermal equilibrium. this will exceed the population of the ground state N1. known as a favourable lifetime ratio). If we now subject the atoms to light of a frequency . To understand how this is done. N1 ≈ N. and the majority of the atoms will be in the ground state. which is shown as the arrow marked P in the diagram on the right. levels 1. and the energy transition E1 → E3 as the pump transition. we may use a slightly more realistic model. which is shown as the transition L.e. The level 3 is sometimes referred to as the pump level or pump band. releasing a photon of frequency ν12 (given by E2 – E1 = hν12). with energies E1. with the energy being transferred to vibrational motion (heat) of the host material surrounding the atoms.A three-level laser energy diagram. and optical amplification at the frequency ν21 can be obtained. respectively. that of a three-level laser. such as electrical discharge or chemical reactions. other methods of exciting the laser medium.. this time with each atom able to exist in any of three energy states. If we continue pumping the atoms. and populations N1. . that is. the population of the E3 will be essentially zero (N3 ≈ 0) and a population of excited state atoms will accumulate in level 2 (N2 > 0). Initially. the energy of level 2 lies between that of the ground state and level 3. i. An atom in level 2 may decay by spontaneous emission to the ground state. To achieve non-equilibrium conditions. N2 ≈ N3 ≈ 0. E2. and N3. however in practice the 3→2 transition (labeled R in the diagram) is usually radiationless. If the lifetime of this transition. If over half the N atoms can be accumulated in this state. we will excite an appreciable number of them into level 3. called the laser transition in the diagram. Note that E1 < E2 < E3. we require these excited atoms to quickly decay to level 2. This process is called pumping and does not necessarily always directly involve light absorption. In a medium suitable for laser operation.

which allow optical pumping of the medium over a wide range of wavelengths. and a non-radiative transition between 2 and 1. N3. then N3 > N2 and a population inversion is achieved. and populations N1. as long as N3 > 0. From level 4. which may relax by spontaneous or stimulated emission into level 2 (the lower laser level). In this case. since any appreciable population accumulating in level 3.Because at least half the population of atoms must be excited from the ground state to obtain a population inversion. any atom in the lower laser level E2 is also quickly de-excited. the presence of a fast. In this system. a four-level laser is much more efficient than a three-level one. radiationless decay transitions result in population of the pump band being quickly depleted (N4 ≈ 0). with complex excitation and relaxation processes involved between these levels. Here. the pumping transition P excites the atoms in the ground state (level 1) into the pump band (level 4). a population accumulates in level 3 (the upper laser level). non-radiative transition Ra into the level 3. This makes threelevel lasers rather inefficient. Thus optical amplification. leading to a negligible population in that state (N2 ≈ 0). Since only a few atoms must be excited into the upper laser level to form a population inversion. A three-level system could also have a radiative transition between level 3 and 2. In reality. N2. and laser operation. or a continuum of levels. by Theodore Maiman in 1960). In a four-level system. there are four energy levels. E4. the laser medium must be very strongly pumped. respectively. This level likewise has a fast. the pump band may consist of several distinct energy levels. N4. That is. In practice. The energies of each level are such that E1 < E2 < E3 < E4. described below. can take place at a frequency of ν32 (E3-E2 = hν32). Four-level lasers A four-level laser energy diagram. most lasers are four-level lasers. E2. will form a population inversion with respect to level 2. As before. This is important. In particular. Since the lifetime of the laser transition L is long compared to that of Ra (τ32 ≫ τ43). many more than four energy levels may be involved in the laser process. the pumping requirements are weaker. E3. non-radiative decay Rb into the ground state. and most practical lasers are of this type. energies E1. despite being the first type of laser to be discovered (based on a ruby laser medium. the upper laser level. . the atoms again decay by a fast.

if the laser is optically pumped. known as lasing without inversion. In order to amplify this attenuated light. Optical fiber amplifiers doped with erbium have been developed and utilized for glass optical fibers that are used as submarine cables and others. In the microwave region. dye lasers. While the diameter of the core of glass fibers is less than 10 microns. For instance. the frequency of the pumping light must be greater than that of the resulting laser light. Other methods of creating a population inversion Stimulated emission was first observed in the microwave region of the electromagnetic spectrum. To create a population inversion under these conditions.. In order to amplify light we dope fibers with . However. that occur in nature. light moving through the fiber will be attenuated gradually. This means that. at room temperature all states are populated almost equally. the well-known "21cm wave" transition in atomic hydrogen. the energy of the pumping transition is greater than that of the laser transition. The separated population represents a population inversion which can exhibit stimulated emissions Optical fibers can guide light for a very long distance by confining the light within the core region. It is possible in some media to use multiple photon absorptions between multiple lower-energy transitions to reach the pump level. A strong inhomogeneous magnetic field will separate out atoms in the higher energy state from a beam of mixed state atoms. to use quantum coherence effects to reduce the likelihood of an excited-state to ground-state transition. the core diameter of polymer fibers is 100-500 microns. as described in the model above. giving rise to the acronym MASER for Microwave Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. In other words. allows optical amplification to take place without producing a population inversion between the two states. we use optical fiber amplifiers. in a hydrogen Maser. it is necessary to selectively remove some atoms or molecules from the system based on differences in properties. the pump wavelength is shorter than the laser wavelength. where the lone electron flips its spin state from parallel to the nuclear spin to antiparallel. no matter how transparent the fiber material is. this is not the only mechanism that can result in laser action. can be used to create a population inversion because the parallel state has a magnetic moment and the antiparallel state does not. but it makes amplification difficult in principle. the Boltzmann distribution of molecules among energy states is such that. such lasers are called up-conversion lasers. For example. by imposing an additional optical or microwave field. This is the case with water masers. there are many common lasers (e.g. The large diameter is a strong point of polymer optical fibers as it enables easy alignment of fibers and light sources. carbon dioxide lasers) where the laser medium consists of complete molecules. We have proposed polymer optical fiber amplifiers as amplifiers to be used for large-diameter polymer optical fibers.and four-level lasers. This technique. While in many lasers the laser process involves the transition of atoms between different electronic energy states. and energy states correspond to vibrational and rotational modes of oscillation of the molecules. In some media it is possible.Note that in both three.

. amplification of continuous light is required in order to utilize the amplifiers in optical communications system. We expect that innovative kind of organic dye will appear in future." So far we have fabricated graded-index polymer optical fiber amplifiers doped with rare-earth chelate such as erbium. we choose organic dye appropriate to the required oscillation wavelength. and circulate new dye solution. In future. On this research we received the award for the best original paper by the Japan Society of Applied Physics in 1998. dissolve the dye in several liters of organic solvent. Now solid-state lasers by semiconductors are being used in various fields. synchronizing fluorescence is emitted so that the light is amplified. However. This laser will be suitable when simple light source with relatively wide wavelength range is needed. pump them by light and inject signal light of the same wavelength as the emitted fluorescence. The above photo shows a fiber laser of 5-cm length being irradiated with pumping light from the sides and causing laser oscillation. we can change the oscillation wavelength easily and cleanly only by exchanging the 5-cm fiber. while we achieved success in amplifying pulsed light. if we use a polymer optical fiber laser. However. it is necessary to drain the dye solution out. neodymium and europium. if we want to change the oscillation wavelength. When using a dye laser. This amplification becomes more efficient as the pumping light intensity density (light intensity per unit cross-sectional area within the fiber core) increases. light of very high intensity must be injected into optical fibers with large diameter in order to obtain high light intensity density. When the wavelength of required light cannot be obtained with usual inexpensive semiconductor lasers. but the oscillation wavelength of these lasers depends on properties of the semiconductors. which is a very troublesome procedure. By using this polymer optical fiber amplifier of only 90-cm length. clean carefully. We reported the polymer optical fiber amplifier doped with organic dye in 1992. we will design more efficient rare-earth chelate and fabricate fibers with base material that can improve the efficiency of amplification. and introduced them into polymer optical fibers. and methods to irradiate them with pumping light. But it is difficult to amplify continuous light with organic dye due to its inherent properties.fluorescent substances. and use it while circulating the solution. To solve this problem. This was the world's first graded-index polymer optical fiber amplifier whose refractive index distribution and organic dye concentration become higher radially toward the core. We also have been invited to talk on this topic at international conferences sponsored by SPIE and others. Stimulated by the signal light. Amplifiers doped with organic dye can be made into fiber lasers by adding creative ideas for concentration of organic dye. Therefore. length of fibers. we succeeded in amplifying signal light (pulsed light) by 4000 times. we have newly designed "rare-earth chelate. and even confirmed a phenomenon called "superfluorescence" which leads to amplification. we have designed and selected fluorescent substances (organic dye and rare-earth chelate) that can amplify light even with very low pumping light intensity. Therefore. Aiming for amplification of continuous light. lasers using a dye solution called "dye lasers" have been employed mainly.