Manufacturing with Light 2: Lasers Making Lasers

Lead Research Organisation: University of Southampton
Department Name: Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC)


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 average power (>100W) laser and amplifier operation, from compact (< 1square cm) gain chips, emitting laser wavelengths in the 1-, 2-, and 3- micron region.
The second goal is to demonstrate the utility of these devices in "add-on" amplifier modules that can be tailored for commercial lasers systems, to enhance their output performance by an order of magnitude and address high-value laser-based manufacturing applications, including materials processing, the life-sciences and medical areas in particular. Engaging with laser manufacturing companies, the UK Association of Industrial Laser Users, and the EPSRC Centre of Innovative Manufacturing - Laser-based Production Processes at Heriot-Watt University, we will determine an optimum route for capitalisation and knowledge transfer of the fabrication expertise of this novel platform architecture.
As a booster project, we will direct our efforts towards maximising the impact of the optimisation processes to create new waveguide gain media that offer unique (and power-scalable) laser performance beyond what is currently available in the industrial laser market place. Coupled with our industrial partners we will test and evaluate the developed amplifier modules for their relevance as potential laser-tools in the manufacturing sector.

Planned Impact

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 amplifier results)
(3) the UK (and beyond) laser-based manufacturing sector
(4) UK-based laser industry (three companies, Fianium Ltd, Rofin-Sinar UK, 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 have already set new benchmarks of materials capability. In this booster project we will refine the successes in new materials and single-crystal film growth. Furthermore, the techniques that will be developed in this project will provide crucial insights into new practical methods for fabricating devices at meaningful rates and greater control and flexibility.
(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 collaboration.
(3) Laser manufacturers and system integrators will be able to benefit from a new platform technology that will provide a reduced footprint and excellent efficiency for laser-based materials processing, marking and cutting in the areas of manufacturing, semiconductor and energy, medical, and healthcare. With these devices produced in this project we expect to be able to expand the parameter space for laser-tools suited for manufacturing systems to be utilised in high-value processes, enhancing quality and performance at the right price. 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 three companies above, but there are other companies in the UK, and many companies in the EU, Asia, and the USA who would be interested in this platform 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.
Description The main developments to date in this project include the development of new techniques to improve the quality of crystalline films grown by Pulsed Laser Deposition (PLD). Laser devices developed based upon active Yb:YAG waveguide gain modules fabricated by PLD have been an order-of-magnitude more efficient than comparable waveguides previously made by this approach. In fact the properties of the approximately 10 micron thick films are comparable with those for bulk crystals made via traditional techniques, but where they are already in a very thin format that is conducive to power-scaling lasers. This work was captured in the OSA (Optical Society of America) spotlight, in Dec 2015, and since that time the output power has been doubled and several other different crystal types have been grown.
New techniques are being developed to further improve the integrity of the films to be able to be realise amplifiers suitable for lasers producing very-short laser-pulses that have the potential to be a efficient, compact high-value-manufacturing laser systems.
Exploitation Route We've developed a new methodology for Pulsed Laser Deposition, that is being considered by industry who make physical vapour deposition systems based upon this approach. It is early days yet, however the approach appears to offer substantially better quality films. Recent progress in fabricating bespoke active waveguides promises a route toward novel amplifiers that would be used for greenhouse gas monitoring. This work is being closely monitored by collaborators from NASA.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Environment,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology

Description Work from this project underpinned subsequent successes in securing European funding for an Marie Sklodowska-Curie Innovative Training Network - ITN, GREAT (813159), and a Doctoral Prize for a Phd student. Key methods and processes developed within this research enabled a novel materials development project with NASA for waveguide amplifiers in LIDAR applications.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Aerospace, Defence and Marine
Description (GREAT) - Grating Reflectors Enabled laser Applications and Training
Amount € 4,058,697 (EUR)
Funding ID 813159 
Organisation European Commission 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 03/2019 
End 02/2023
Description Development of Solid State Laser Transmitters for Remote Sensing
Amount $19,807 (USD)
Organisation National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) 
Department NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies
Sector Public
Country United States
Start 01/2018 
End 05/2018
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 06/2017 
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 09/2015 
End 03/2019
Description EPSRC standard grant
Amount £720,997 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/S003398/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 12/2018 
End 06/2021
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 09/2015 
End 10/2018
Description Research contract
Amount $18,528 (USD)
Funding ID NNG15HQ01C 
Organisation National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) 
Department Goddard Space Flight Center
Sector Public
Country United States
Start 07/2016 
End 03/2017