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Photonics Dictionary

supercontinuum

Supercontinuum refers to a broad spectrum of light that spans a wide range of wavelengths, typically from the visible to the near-infrared or even mid-infrared regions of the electromagnetic spectrum. This phenomenon occurs when intense laser light is coupled into a nonlinear optical medium, such as a photonic crystal fiber or a nonlinear crystal.

The process of supercontinuum generation involves nonlinear effects such as self-phase modulation, stimulated Raman scattering, and four-wave mixing, which occur when high-intensity light interacts with the nonlinear medium. These nonlinear effects cause spectral broadening, wherein the original narrowband laser light is spread out across a broad range of wavelengths, resulting in a continuum of colors.

Supercontinuum light sources have several unique characteristics that make them valuable in various applications, including:

Broadband spectrum: Supercontinuum sources can provide light over a wide spectral range, making them useful for applications such as spectroscopy, optical coherence tomography (OCT), and wavelength division multiplexing (WDM) in telecommunications.

High coherence: Despite their broad spectrum, supercontinuum sources can exhibit high coherence, allowing for applications such as frequency metrology, interferometry, and coherent imaging.

Ultrafast pulses: Supercontinuum generation often involves femtosecond or picosecond laser pulses, leading to ultrafast temporal characteristics. This makes them suitable for applications such as ultrafast spectroscopy and time-resolved imaging.

Compactness and stability: Supercontinuum sources can be implemented using compact fiber-based systems, offering advantages in terms of size, stability, and ease of integration into existing optical setups.

Tunable wavelengths: By adjusting the parameters of the nonlinear medium or the input laser, the spectral characteristics of the supercontinuum can be tuned, allowing for flexibility in tailoring the output to specific applications.

Applications of supercontinuum sources span a wide range of fields, including biophotonics, spectroscopy, microscopy, telecommunications, and laser processing. They have enabled advances in areas such as medical imaging, material characterization, and optical sensing, and continue to be a topic of active research and development in photonics and optics.

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