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Amplifiers

Ask RP Photonics for amplifier designs, various kinds of calculations, methods for the
characterization of amplifiers, etc.

Definition: devices for amplifying the power of light beams

An optical amplifier is a device which receives some input signal and generates an output signal
with higher optical power. Typically, inputs and outputs are laser beams, either propagating as
Gaussian beams in free space or in a fiber. The amplification occurs in a so-called gain medium,
which has to be “pumped” (i.e., provided with energy) from an external source. Most optical
amplifiers are either optically or electrically pumped.

Laser Amplifiers versus Amplifiers Based on Optical
Nonlinearities
Most optical amplifiers are laser amplifiers, where the amplification is based on stimulated
emission. Here, the gain medium contains some atoms, ions or molecules in an excited state,
which can be stimulated by the signal light to emit more light into the same radiation modes.
Such gain media are either insulators doped with some laser-active ions, or semiconductors
(→ semiconductor optical amplifiers), which can be electrically or optically pumped. Doped
insulators for laser amplification are laser crystals and glasses used in bulk form, or some types
of waveguides, such as optical fibers (→ fiber amplifiers). The laser-active ions are usually
either rare earth ions or (less frequently) transition-metal ions. A particularly important type of
laser amplifier is the erbium-doped fiber amplifier, which is used mostly for optical fiber
communications.

In addition to stimulated emission, there also exist other physical mechanisms for optical
amplification, which are based on various types of optical nonlinearities. Optical parametric
amplifiers are usually based on a medium with χ(2) nonlinearity, but there are also parametric
fiber devices using the χ(3) nonlinearity of a fiber. Other types of nonlinear amplifiers are Raman
amplifiers and Brillouin amplifiers, exploiting the delayed nonlinear response of a medium.

An important difference between laser amplifiers and amplifiers based on nonlinearities is that
laser amplifiers can store some amount of energy, whereas nonlinear amplifiers provide gain
only as long as the pump light is present.

Multipass Arrangements, Regenerative Amplifiers, and
Amplifier Chains
A bulk-optical laser amplifier often provides only a moderate amount of gain, typically only few
decibels. This applies particularly to ultrashort pulse amplifiers, since they must be based on

Detrimental Effects For high gain. weak parasitic reflections can cause parasitic lasing. The effective gain may then be increased either by arranging for multiple passes of the radiation through the same amplifier medium.e. where excess noise can partly be explained as the effect of spontaneous emission. Even without any parasitic reflections. In some cases. or (mostly for ultrashort pulses) with regenerative amplifiers.. or additional output components not caused by the input signal. or by using several amplifiers in a sequence (→ amplifier chains). which tend to have lower emission cross sections. multi-stage amplifiers (amplifier chains) are often better suited. amplified spontaneous emission may extract a significant power from an amplifier. the amplification factor of a gain medium saturates. Multipass operation (Figure 1) can be achieved with combinations of mirrors (for several passes with slightly different angular directions). is reduced (→ gain saturation). leading to a high average power while the pulse . the pulses can be spatially or spectrally filtered in various ways. and a multipass amplifier further boosts the pulse energy to hundreds of millijoules. For very large amplification factors. This effect then limits the achievable gain. For example. this energy can be extracted within a very short time. oscillation without an input signal. as laser amplifiers (particularly those based on solid-state gain media) store some amount of energy in the gain medium.e. but also to nonlinear amplifiers. a regenerative amplifier may amplify pulses to an energy of a few millijoules. A related effect is that amplifiers also add some excess noise to the output. during some short time interval the output power can exceed the pump power by many orders of magnitude. i.broadband gain media. helping to achieve a high beam quality and/or a shorter pulse duration. Between the amplifier stages. Gain Saturation For high values of the input light intensity or fluence. Figure 1: Setup of a multipass femtosecond amplifier. a high repetition rate pulse train is amplified. This is a natural consequence of the fact that an amplifier cannot add arbitrary levels of energy or power to an input signal. Ultrafast Amplifiers Amplifiers of different kind may also be used for amplifying ultrashort pulses. However. i.. This applies not only to laser amplifiers. Therefore.

g. whereas optical parametric amplifiers provide amplification only as long as the pump beam is present. amplified spontaneous emission. specified as an amplification factor or in decibels (dB) • the saturation power. particularly in ultrashort pulses. fiber amplifiers. A number of special aspects apply to such devices. • It can generate extremely high peak powers. semiconductor optical amplifiers store much less energy than fiber amplifiers.energy remains moderate. Important Parameters of an Optical Amplifier Important parameters of an optical amplifier include: • the maximum gain. For example. Applications Typical applications of optical amplifiers are: • An amplifier can boost the (average) power of a laser output to higher levels (→ master oscillator power amplifier = MOPA). in terms of saturation properties. • It can amplify weak signals before photodetection. the optical power level has to be raised between long sections of fiber before the information is lost in the noise. unless the added amplifier noise is large. regenerative amplifiers. See also: amplifier noise. Raman amplifiers. optical parametric amplifiers. and this has important implications for optical fiber communications. As another example. ultrafast amplifiers. In other cases. amplification factor. semiconductor optical amplifiers. which is related to the gain efficiency • the saturated output power (for a given pump power) • the power efficiency and pump power requirements • the saturation energy • the time of energy storage (→ upper-state lifetime) • the gain bandwidth (and possibly smoothness of gain spectrum) • the noise figure and possibly more detailed noise specifications • the sensitivity to back-reflections Different kinds of amplifiers differ very much e. rare-earth-doped gain media can store substantial amounts of energy. • In long fiber-optic links for optical fiber communications. if the stored energy is extracted within a short time. and are discussed in the article on ultrafast amplifiers. and thus reduce the detection noise. divided-pulse amplification . a much higher gain is applied to pulses at lower repetition rates. leading to high pulse energies and correspondingly huge peak powers. master oscillator power amplifier.