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EPSRC to invest £430K in visible laser research at the ORC

Published: 5 March 2010

EPSRC has awarded a grant for £430k to ORC Senior Research Fellow, Dr Jacob Mackenzie, to investigate a new approach for generating visible laser emission directly from highly-excited rare earth ions, along with co-investigators, Professor Andy Clarkson and Professor David Shepherd.

The ORC has had previous success in the field of upconversion lasers, through development of low-phonon fluoride glass fibres (ZBLAN); underpinning the only successful upconversion fibre lasers to date.

Poor environmental robustness and the short operational lifetimes of these fibres have thus far limited their power scaling potential. The intention of this project, which starts in the beginning of 2010, is to utilise low-phonon-energy crystalline materials in a planar-waveguide configuration to overcome these issues, and provide a way forward for higher powers in the visible spectral regime from a compact and simple laser system.

Key to the future success of this project are the team’s pioneering research and expertise with recent and critical technological advancements, namely ultra-low-loss rare-earth-doped crystalline waveguides and narrow-linewidth high-power diode-laser pump sources, which can now help to generate the key excitation parameters that will enable efficient high-power operation of this laser architecture. Their vision is to simplify and realise a power-scalable solid-state visible laser, while simultaneously enabling the possibility to add new colours to the laser spectrum portfolio. Over the three years that the project will run, they will develop a new laser architecture, applicable to high-power operation in both continuous wave (cw) and pulsed modes of operation. Initially targeting a blue-green laser wavelength, the group expects to someday be able to replace the massively power hungry argon ion gas laser, with a compact and very efficient all-solid-state configuration.

Successful demonstration of the project milestones will place the UK at the forefront of international research in the field of high-power visible solid-state lasers, with an excellent opportunity to commercialise the technology through the groups’ industrial partners, laser Quantum Ltd. and Onyx Optics Inc.

To paraphrase the EPSRC proposal reviewer’s comments: “This ‘value for money’ proposal has the potential to provide a disruptive step-change in the field of visible solid-state lasers with a clear path for commercial and social impact.”

Dr Mackenzie commented: “I am delighted that the project was so highly rated by the EPSRC judging panel. It shows that there are still opportunities for fundamental laser research that promise to pave the way to new operational regimes and applications.” He added: “What makes this project really exciting is the expectation that one day we will see a bright blue-green laser beam coming out of these tiny waveguides, and knowing that it will make a step change for visible laser systems, with the potential to save a huge amount of energy and money with respect to the workhorse gas laser."

Find out more about the Planar Waveguide and Slab Lasers group


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