Lasers making lasers

Lead Research Organisation: University of Southampton
Department Name: Optoelectronics Research Centre


This proposal falls under the Manufacturing with light call and addresses the area of Pulsed Laser Deposition (PLD) as a route to manufacturing high optical quality, fully single crystal lasing waveguides. PLD is an established technique for deposition of a range of materials, but few so far have used it to grow single crystal structures for application as thin-film lasers. This project is directed at this specific area, and has end goals of high power (>100W c.w.) lasing operation, from compact (< 1square cm) devices at laser wavelengths in the 1.0 - 2.0 micron region, as well as q-switched and mode-locked pulsed laser operation.

The second goal is to demonstrate the utility of these devices for applications across the range of laser-based manufacturing, including materials processing, and the life-sciences and medical areas in particular. We will engage with laser companies, the UK association of laser users and laser job shops to establish the optimum market for such devices and then work with all of these to seek a route to commercialisation of these products.

Given the short duration of the project, we will direct our effort to ensure the optimum device outcome (c.w. or pulsed operation) following the initial growth and characterisation phase, for maximum impact within the manufacturing sector.

Planned Impact

Impact Summary

The main beneficiaries of the proposed research will be:
(1) materials' scientists (via our results on novel growth of laser-deposited thin films),
(2) the laser research community (from our lasing results)
(3) the UK (and beyond) laser-based manufacturing sector
(4) UK-based laser industry (two companies, M-Squared and Elforlight, are listed as exemplars)

In greater detail:

(1) The PLD community world-wide is interested in all such novel materials developments. To date, nobody (apart from us) has used PLD to grow films of thicknesses within the few microns to few tens of microns, so our results here will set a new benchmark of materials capability. Having been the editor of the Wiley text on Pulsed Laser deposition of thin films: applications-led growth of functional materials, I would anticipate a third text in this series, potentially addressing high quality PLD growth of optical materials.

(2) There is a thriving UK laser community and in the area of diode-pumped solid-state lasers Universities such as Southampton, St. Andrews, Strathclyde, Heriot Watt, Imperial College, and Manchester are all major international players. All these institutions also have major efforts in ultrafast lasers, while Southampton and St. Andrews lead in waveguide laser development. Our work will impact strongly upon this community through our publications, conference presentations and future collaboration.

(3) Laser manufacturers and system integrators will benefit from these low cost, reduced footprint and highly efficient lasers for laser-based processing, marking and cutting in the areas of manufacturing, medical, healthcare, and ideally other new industrial sectors, thereby establishing an extended customer base for laser systems. The UK is very well placed to exploit this opportunity as is already home to a large number of laser application developers and system integrators (e.g. OpTek, M-Solv, Spectrum Technologies and Laser Micromachining Ltd).

(4) We have given the names of two companies above, but there are other compnies in the UK, and many companies in the EU, and USA in particular who would be interested in just such a technology. Manufacturing is set to extend its reach in new high-technology areas and we fully expect this to be led by UK-based companies, (including a new spin-out from this proposal if our expectations are fulfilled.


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Description This award proved for the first time that high quality optical waveguides could be grown using the technique of pulsed laser deposition, a technique that had, until recently, only been considered for one-off growths of experimental materials, and not used for actual device-quality growth
Exploitation Route we have used the findings from this lasers making lasers grant to win a follow-up award that pushed the results obtained into a new level of output and capability for these optical waveguide lasing devices.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology

Description This first grant called Lasers making lasers then led to a follow-up grant titled Lasers making lasers 2, which itself then attracted a small further research contract from NASA for a proof-of-principle growth of novel materials
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Environment,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology
Impact Types Economic

Description EPSRC call
Amount £1,768,136 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/P027644/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 07/2017 
End 06/2022
Description EPSRC call
Amount £701,030 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/N018281/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2015 
End 03/2019
Description Manufactruing with Light 2
Amount £586,822 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/N004388/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2015 
End 10/2018
Description Elforlight 
Organisation Elforlight Limited
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution We have interacted with this company in a project to make thin film lasers, and they donated a laser source to us as part of the project. We used this and acknowledged their inputs and contributions in our paper acknowledgements
Collaborator Contribution It was a donation of a laser source that let us evaluate our samples much more effieicntly.
Impact outputs were in the form of publications and hence acknowledgments. they are also now part of a steering group for our follow-on project, under a new EPSRC grant.
Start Year 2014
Description M Squared 
Organisation M Squared Lasers Ltd
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution .
Collaborator Contribution .
Impact .
Start Year 2015
Description AILU 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact I presented the work on thin film laser devices to a range of laser-based industry participants, showing them the utility and feasibility of lasers being able to grow thin-film laser crystals. This was an area that was very different to their normal experience of lasers, i.e. commercial systems
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015