Fraunhofer ILT-led group wins award for ultrashort laser pulses

Aachen, Germany -- A group of German researchers led by the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology (ILT) have received the 2012 Stifterverband's Science Award for their development of a laser platform to scale up the output of ultrashort laser pulses, up to several hundred watts.

Ultrashort laser pulses have gained favor for extremely precise and gentle processing of highly sensitive materials; reducing the pulse duration enables both more precision and reduces heat in the material being processed. As an example, in laser-processing glass, ultrashort pulse lasers can be used to cut narrow speaker ports for smartphone displays.

With the goal to improve the power output of ultrashort-pulse lasers, a collection of partners from science and industry -- Fraunhofer ILT, RWTH Aachen University, the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics MPQ, Jenoptik, EdgeWave, and Amphos (the last two being ILT spin-offs) -- developed a new laser platform, with EdgeWave's INNOSLAB technology at its core. Four mirrors surround a slab of laser crystal plate; a pump jet enters from two opposite sides and the ultrashort laser pulses are repeatedly deflected to keep them passing along the slab to build up power. The group says they can increase mean laser output of ultrashort pulse beam sources up to several hundred watts; higher power translates to higher production volumes.

Two joint projects from 2008-2011 centered on developing this new beam source: the PIKOFLAT project, supported by the Federal Ministry for Education and Research BMBF, to structure pressure tools and embossing dies and reduce processing times; a result of this project has been producing embossing rollers for creating fine artificial leather surfaces in automobiles. The KORONA project with Fraunhofer, Max Planck, and RWTH Aachen aimed to develop a compact beam source with extremely short-wavelength light.

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