The SuperK Extreme supercontinuum “white-light” laser source, commercially available from consortium member NKT Photonics. Wen dispersing its broadband laser light on a prism a rainbow of colours appear.

The supercontinuum white-light laser - tackling todays and tomorrows photonics challenges

fredag 13 maj 16
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Background information: Supercontinuum laser sources

Supercontinuum laser sources are quite remarkable. While a normal laser only emits light a certain wavelength (think of a green laser pointer), the supercontinuum laser light is so broadband it covers many colours. Popularly speaking it is a “white-light” laser, in the sense that white light from a lamp is composed of a broad spectrum of colours spanning the visible range from the deep blue to the deep red. The main difference compared to the light from a lamp is the high coherence of the laser light, which is precisely why the laser in general has so many applications.

Why is it so exciting to have a supercontinuum laser instead of a standard laser? Consider laser spectroscopy, where various atomic, molecular or chemical processes are investigated and typically a laser pulse is used to probe some given interaction. Depending on the molecule or chemical reaction the laser probe must have a very precise energy, or wavelength. With a standard laser this is a problem because it only emits light at a very certain wavelength. In certain cases a so-called tunable laser can be used to vary the laser wavelength, or one could use a range of lasers and later mix the information, but the complexity quickly becomes large and such tunable sources are only covering select parts of the wavelength spectrum. With a supercontinuum laser, we can probe a wide range of wavelengths in one go. This is much faster and gives much more intuitive and reliable data.

To make an everyday analogy, imagine staring at a beautiful Monet painting of a summer garden: green colours, yellow colours, blue colours, white colours are dominant and you can see it all because you use a white-light lamp. Now think how much hassle it would be if you only had a red, a blue and a green lamp turned on, one at a time. First you get the red, then the blue and then the green part of the painting. Then you would have to mix that in your head. The yellow flower? You would have to mix the blue and green images to see that. And the white petals on the flower? All colours must be mixed to see that. Let us just agree it is much more intuitive and fast to use a white-light lamp. This is why the photonics community is so excited about the supercontinuum laser source, and the applications become more numerous year after year.

DTU Fotonik will coordinate SUPUVIR, a new European Training Network funded by the European H2020 programme. The SUPUVIR network will focus on so-called supercontinuum laser sources, which essentially are laser sources emitting coherent laser light that is broadband enough to be considered white. In this network 15 early-stage researchers (ESRs) will be trained towards achieving a PhD degree.  The network will be a major step towards coordinated training on a European level of the highly skilled scientists that are requested by the photonics sector to tackle the cross-disciplinary and inter-sectoral science and applications associated with supercontinuum light sources.

The training network SUPUVIR (SUPercontinuum broadband light sources covering UV to IR applications) will combine the efforts of 6 academic and 4 non-academic beneficiaries across EU to train the 15 ESRs for the growing industry within supercontinuum broadband light sources, giving them extensive knowledge in silica and soft-glass chemistry, preform design and fibre drawing, linear and nonlinear fibre and waveguide characterization, nonlinear fibre optics, supercontinuum modelling, supercontinuum system design, patent protection, and in-depth knowledge of a broad range of the main applications of supercontinuum high-power broadband light sources.

The research and development in SUPUVIR will give improved supercontinuum sources and supercontinuum spectra enabling new science and applications for optical imaging, spectroscopy, sensing and control, e.g. optical coherence tomography, IR multimodal spectroscopy, confocal and fluorescence microscopy, photoacoustic imaging and food quality control.

The SUPUVIR consortium members are Technical University of Denmark (DK), NKT Photonics (DK), Institute of Electronic Materials Technology (PL), Research Center for Non-Destructive Testing (AT), Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (FR), University of Rennes I (FR), Leukos (FR), Tampere University of Technology (FI), Valmet Corporation (FI), and University of Cambridge (UK).

SUPUVIR is a European Training Network, funded by the Marie Skłodowska Curie Action, under the Innovative Training Network scheme H2020-MSCA-ITN-2016.