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Absorption in Laser Optics

Absorption in Laser Optics

This is Section 8.1 of the Laser Optics Resource Guide.

Lasers can be absorbed inside an optical substrate through several different methods. Electrons in discrete energy levels of the atoms that make up the optical medium absorb radiative photons and are pushed to semi-stable, higher energy levels. These atoms then fluoresce and emit radiation (photons) through spontaneous emission when electrons fall back to a lower energy level. Unintentional fluorescence causes loss of energy and interference with signal detection, which can be detrimental in laser optics applications. Fluorescence is often nearly isotropic and radiates in all directions, which makes things worse. Fluorescence is typically caused by impurities in the substrate such as rare earth ions.

For example, UV grade fused silica demonstrates high transmittance in the UV and visible spectra, but experiences dips in transmittance centered at 1.4µm, 2.2µm, and 2.7µm due to absorption from hydroxide (OH-) ion impurities. Meanwhile IR grade fused silica contains a reduced amount of OH- ions, resulting in higher transmission throughout the NIR spectrum (Figure 1). More information can be found in our UV vs. IR Grade Fused Silica application note.

Figure 1: Transmission data for UV and IR grade fused silica for a 5mm thick sample without Fresnel reflections1

Optical media may also absorb radiation in the form of thermal energy or heat. Hotspots are local excesses of heat caused by material inhomogeneity or subsurface damage and cause optics to degrade much more quickly. Exposure to high-energy radiation, such as UV or X-rays, solarize a material, changing its color and increasing absorption by forming color centers that absorb specific wavebands. Therefore, it is important to understand how, and in what ways different types of radiation, including laser radiation, are absorbed by different glass types in order to mitigate damage.  


  1. “Corning HPFS® 7979, 7980, 8655 Fused Silica.” Corning, February 2014.

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