High-power ultrafast thin disk laser oscillators and their potential for sub-100-femtosecond pulse generation
Ultrafast thin disk laser oscillators achieve the highest average output powers and pulse energies of any mode-locked laser oscillator technology. The thin disk concept avoids thermal problems occurring in conventional high-power rod or slab lasers and enables high-power TEM 00 operation with broadband gain materials. Stable and self-starting passive pulse formation is achieved with semiconductor saturable absorber mirrors (SESAMs). The key components of ultrafast thin disk lasers, such as gain material, SESAM, and dispersive cavity mirrors, are all used in reflection. This is an advantage for the generation of ultrashort pulses with excellent temporal, spectral, and spatial properties because the pulses are not affected by large nonlinearities in the oscillator. Output powers close to 100 W and pulse energies above 10 μJ are directly obtained without any additional amplification, which makes these lasers interesting for a growing number of industrial and scientific applications such as material processing or driving experiments in high-field science. Ultrafast thin disk lasers are based on a power-scalable concept, and substantially higher power levels appear feasible. However, both the highest power levels and pulse energies are currently only achieved with Yb:YAG as the gain material, which limits the gain bandwidth and therefore the achievable pulse duration to 700 to 800 fs in efficient thin disk operation. Other Yb-doped gain materials exhibit a larger gain bandwidth and support shorter pulse durations. It is important to evaluate their suitability for power scaling in the thin disk laser geometry. In this paper, we review the development of ultrafast thin disk lasers with shorter pulse durations. We discuss the requirements on the gain materials and compare different Yb-doped host materials. The recently developed sesquioxide materials are particularly promising as they enabled the highest optical-to-optical efficiency (43%) and shortest pulse duration (227 fs) ever achieved with a mode-locked thin disk laser.