An interview with Jason Alexander, discussing IMRA’s patented Fiber Chirped Pulse Amplification (FCPA) femtosecond laser technology, conducted at Photonics West 2019.
What are FCPA lasers?
FCPA stands for fiber chirped pulse amplification. CPA is the technology that won the Nobel Prize for physics in 2018. One of the laureates has led a national Center for Ultrafast Optical Science at the University of Michigan. In fact, IMRA’s research and development activities in the femtosecond laser technologies have been the results of fruitful collaboration with the center and its scientists in order to turn the technology into a commercial success.
FCPA lasers are fiber lasers that produce very short pulses of light at intervals of a few hundred femtoseconds—one femtosecond is one quadrillionth of a second. Within these very short pulses the FCPA lasers can produce extremely high peak powers, such as 100 megawatts, 200 megawatts and so forth. These lasers are very useful for industrial material processing, as well as for medical and semiconductor industries.
Please introduce IMRA's FCPA MicroJewel lasers and the technology involved.
With the FCPA MicroJewel lasers, we are able to generate high energies per pulse, which means that in a short pulse, peak powers are extremely high.
We have high power systems that can be put into use for the manufacture of automotive parts or industrial grade materials. We also use the same exact technology for eye surgery, as it allows people to perform very high precision surgical procedures on the human eye.
How is this technology unique?
Femtosecond lasers - unlike most other lasers - can process any material as the high peak power dissociates molecules. We therefore do not rely on molecular absorption or molecules that dictate what happens to the light. Instead it is the laser light that determines what happens to the material.
In the past five years or so the pulse energies and the amount of average power that these lasers are able to produce has increased, putting us right at the cusp of a material laser processing revolution.
How can these FCPA lasers be used in research or in industry?
Due to the high peak power, it is possible to use this technology for imaging various materials in multi-photon spectroscopy. Researchers can scan areas—you can take a focus point and scan it across a plane, then go down and scan again and repeat. Out of that you can generate a 3D image of the biological molecules you are trying to detect. It is quite amazing and the applications are very diverse - from eye surgery, to imaging of biological materials, and industrial material imaging.
FCPA DE Series from IMRA.
What is it about the range of femtosecond pulse energies that makes them well suited for these applications?
The useful range of energy that the lasers have is dependent on the specific application. But in general the applications are enabled by the high peak power of the laser and not necessarily the energy.
It makes them suitable for applications like material processing. At our booth at Photonics West, we showed some automotive pistons which were surface textured with our femtosecond lasers in order to obtain better fuel efficiency in cars.
Typically for the industrial sector that uses the most amount of energy, applications often need two, three, or even up to ten micro joules of energy. We are able to cover this – we are showing a product at Photonics West with 80 micro joules, which is more than enough for most applications.
What are you hoping to gain from Photonics West?
Photonics West is an important show for the industry—anybody who has anything to do with lasers or photonics and optics is here. This year we are right at the cutting edge of pushing the industry forward. I believe that this is a first in the industry's history, having a femtosecond laser on the automotive manufacturing floor. We are the only company showing automotive pistons that are being produced with our lasers at Photonics West. It’s a very exciting time.
With our lasers we can process single crystal diamond, which is the hardest material known to mankind and we can process the softest polymers, plastics, papers, ceramics and even semiconductors, all with the exact same laser. They are different processes, but all use the same laser.
What I hope to get out of this show is to see a movement towards this revolution. It is inevitable. Femtosecond lasers are basically here to take over material processing applications.
About Jason Alexander
Jason Alexander is the Senior Worldwide Business Development Manager at IMRA America, Inc. His 25 years of experience and knowledge in lasers encompasses a broad range of laser technology from working as a Laser Scientist, a Product Manager, Marketing Manager, OEM Business Development and Government Contracts, and Business Development Manager. Currently at IMRA he works in their Fremont, California division, the Applications Development Center. There, he works with customers to optimize solutions and ROI for their laser application needs in the industrial, medical, analytical, and scientific markets worldwide.
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