8 - Continuous wave supercontinuum generation  pp. 142-177

Continuous wave supercontinuum generation

By J. C. Travers

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It is perhaps not surprising that using extremely high power and short pulse duration pump sources leads to dramatic nonlinear processes in optical fibres; in contrast, the generation of a supercontinuum from a continuous pump wave of relatively meagre power is at first sight, astounding. Yet supercontinua spanning over 1000 nm have been generated with pump powers of a few tens of watts – orders of magnitude lower than pulse pumped systems.

The key to continuous wave (CW) supercontinuum generation is the utilisation of modulation instability (MI). This is inherent to any anomalously dispersive, nonlinear medium, and has been observed in a wide range of systems. This instability can enable the creation of the extremes of peak power and pulse duration necessary for dramatic nonlinear processes to occur, even from very low power CW pump lasers. But although MI from CW pump lasers was observed in the 1980s by Itoh et al. (1989), other factors required for efficient continuum generation were missing, causing another decade to pass before such results were obtained.

A full review of experimental results will be presented later, but for reference, some examples of continuous wave supercontinua are shown in Fig. 8.1, which illustrate the high spectral power and the spectral smoothness and flatness which are characteristic of CW continuum generation.

Although significantly different from the physical mechanisms involved in ultra-short – femtosecond based – supercontinuum generation, the basic physical processes underpinning CW continuum generation are the same as for longer pump pulses (greater than a few picoseconds) and the observations and conclusions developed in the 1980s surrounding these type of sources apply to the CW regime.