Time-resolved imaging of laser-induced refractive index changes in transparent media

Max-Born-Institut für Nichtlineare Optik und Kurzzeitspektroskopie, Max-Born-Straße, D-12489 Berlin, Germany.
The Review of scientific instruments (Impact Factor: 1.61). 03/2011; 82(3):033703. DOI: 10.1063/1.3527937
Source: PubMed


We describe a method to visualize ultrafast laser-induced refractive index changes in transparent materials with a 310 fs impulse response and a submicrometer spatial resolution. The temporal profile of the laser excitation sequence can be arbitrarily set on the subpicosecond and picosecond time scales with a pulse shaping unit, allowing for complex laser excitation. Time-resolved phase contrast microscopy reveals the real part of the refractive index change and complementary time-resolved optical transmission microscopy measurements give access to the imaginary part of the refractive index in the irradiated region. A femtosecond laser source probes the complex refractive index changes from the excitation time up to 1 ns, and a frequency-doubled Nd:YAG laser emitting 1 ns duration pulses is employed for collecting data at longer time delays, when the evolution is slow. We demonstrate the performance of our setup by studying the energy relaxation in a fused silica sample after irradiation with a double pulse sequence. The excitation pulses are separated by 3 ps. Our results show two dimensional refractive index maps at different times from 200 fs to 100 μs after the laser excitation. On the subpicosecond time scale we have access to the spatial characteristics of the energy deposition into the sample. At longer times (800 ps), time-resolved phase contrast microscopy shows the appearance of a strong compression wave emitted from the excited region. On the microsecond time scale, we observe energy transfer outside the irradiated region.

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