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Int. Journal of Refractory Metals and Hard Materials xxx (2012) xxx–xxx

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Int. Journal of Refractory Metals and Hard Materials


journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/IJRMHM

The history, development, and future prospects for laser ceramics: A review
Jiang Li ⁎, Yubai Pan ⁎, Yanping Zeng, Wenbin Liu, Benxue Jiang, Jingkun Guo
Key Laboratory of Transparent Opto-functional Inorganic Materials, Shanghai Institute of Ceramics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Shanghai 200050, China

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Article history: Laser ceramics have a long developing history since the first demonstration of lasing in the Dy2+:CaF2 ceramic.
Received 1 August 2012 Great improvements in fabrication process and novel ideas have led to remarkable achievements. For exam-
Accepted 16 October 2012 ple, 105 kW output power was realized from a Nd:YAG ceramic laser system in 2009. Compared with conven-
Available online xxxx
tional glass and single-crystal laser technologies, the advanced ceramic laser is anticipated to be a highly
attractive alternative in the future. Here we review the developing history of laser ceramics, the fabrication
Keywords:
Laser ceramics
and characteristics of this new, refined polycrystalline ceramic material, and the potential future outlook for
History the field.
Development © 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Future prospects

Contents

1. Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0
2. History of laser ceramics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0
3. Fabrication and the general characteristics of laser ceramics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0
4. Characteristics of ceramic lasers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0
4.1. Continuous-wave laser oscillations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0
4.2. Short-pulse laser oscillations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0
4.3. Composite ceramic lasers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0
5. Future outlook . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0
Acknowledgment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0
References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0

1. Introduction as the driver for nuclear fusion because of their long lifetime of fluores-
cence and high energy storage capacity. However, with a thermal
Solid-state lasers have been widely used in metal processing, conductivity one order of magnitude lower than that of single crystal,
micromachining in the semiconductor industry, medical applications, laser glass is not adequate for industrial continuous-wave (CW) laser
such as eye surgery, red-green-blue (RGB) light sources in laser printers operation or high-repetition pulse laser operation [7].
and projectors, environmental instrumentation measurements and op- Recently, polycrystalline ceramic laser materials have attracted
tical transmission systems, and have demonstrated potential for future much attention because the optical quality has been greatly improved
nuclear-fusion applications [1–3]. Conventionally, single crystal and and highly efficient laser oscillations could be obtained whose efficiencies
glass are used as solid-state laser materials. Laser crystals, such as YAG are comparable or superior to those of single crystals [8]. Laser ceramics
[4], YVO4, Ti:sapphire [5] and ruby, are widely applied because of their could be a promising candidate because of its numerous advantages
excellent thermal mechanical properties. Nd:YAG crystals have superior over laser crystals. First, ceramics can be made in large scale, which
general properties compared with other laser crystals. However, it is still makes them attractive for high-power laser generation. Second, compos-
very difficult to overcome the technological and economical issues of ite laser ceramics with complicated structures can also be fabricated,
conventional single crystal laser gain media for future applications [6]. whereas it's impossible for single crystals. Besides, laser ceramics can be
Glass lasers have been applied in the field of giant pulse laser oscillation heavily and homogeneously doped with no optically heterogeneous
regions such as facets and cores as seen in single crystals. Novel laser
⁎ Corresponding authors. materials, such as sesquioxide ceramics with good optical quality, can
E-mail addresses: lijiang@mail.sic.ac.cn (J. Li), ybpan@mail.sic.ac.cn (Y. Pan). be obtained, which can't be produced by the conventional melt-growth

0263-4368/$ – see front matter © 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ijrmhm.2012.10.010

Please cite this article as: Li J, et al, The history, development, and future prospects for laser ceramics: A review, Int J Refract Met Hard Mater
(2012), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ijrmhm.2012.10.010
2 J. Li et al. / Int. Journal of Refractory Metals and Hard Materials xxx (2012) xxx–xxx

process. In addition, ceramic-derived single crystals with long lifetime evolution of laser output power from YAG ceramics with time is shown
and high resistance to laser damage can be produced from ceramics in Fig. 1. Besides 1 μm Nd:YAG, Yb:YAG ceramic lasers, eye-safe Er3+/
through sintering, which are very promising for high-power-density Tm3+/Ho3+-doped YAG ceramic lasers were also developed [41–47].
lasers [1,9]. For example, laser operation of a composite ceramic Er:YAG rod was
demonstrated at 1645 nm with a slope efficiency of 56.9% under reso-
2. History of laser ceramics nant pumping at 1532.3 nm [41].
The sesquioxides Sc2O3, Y2O3 and Lu2O3 can easily be doped with
Since Mainman discovered the ruby laser in 1960 [10,11], solid-state rare-earth ions and exhibit higher heat conductivity than YAG [48].
lasers have been rapidly developed, especially in the recent years. These properties make the sesquioxides attractive for high-power
Among all kinds of solid-state laser materials, YAG single crystal is the solid-state lasers. However, growth of large crystals from the melt is
best one, which was first discovered by Guesic et al. in 1964 [4]. However, a difficult task due to the high melting point of more than 2400 °C
the disadvantages of laser crystals make people try to find some other [49]. With the development of nanopowder technology and vacuum
laser materials. Fabrication of translucent ceramics began in the 1950s sintering method, the optical quality of sesquioxide ceramics have
and Coble first demonstrated that ceramics could be sintered to a visually been improved greatly and ceramic lasers can be obtained with a high
transparent/translucent state by obtaining exceptionally high density efficiency that is comparable with that of single-crystal lasers [50]. As
and reducing/eliminating light scattering, such as residual porosity, sec- a result of their high thermal conductivity and feasibility of large-scale
ondary phase [12–14]. An effort to use ceramics as laser gain media laser gain media, sesquioxide ceramic lasers have attracted much atten-
began in 1964 with Dy2+:CaF2 in cryogenic conditions [15]. The first tion for the development of high-output-power and ultrashort-pulsed
laser ceramic was made by vacuum melting the tri-fluorides, grinding lasers, as an alternative to Ti:sapphire lasers [1]. Some excellent laser
the product into a powder, hot pressing the powder in vacuum and properties of sesquioxide ceramics have been reported. For example,
finally reducing the product to Dy 2+ using X-rays. In 1973, Nd-doped CW one-micron laser oscillation with slope efficiency of 32% was
Yttralox (NDY, 1 mol%Nd2O3–10 mol%ThO2–89 mol%Y2O3) transpar- achieved on an uncoated 1.5 at.%Nd:Y2O3 ceramic plate with size of
ent ceramic was successfully fabricated and used for pulsed laser oscil- Ф14mm×2.7 mm under laser diode end-pumping [51]. Diode-pumped
lation [16,17]. The optical scattering loss of the second laser ceramic was continuous-wave, mode-locked and passively Q-switched Yb:Y2O3 ce-
as high as 5–7 cm−1 and the lasing slope efficiencies were only approx- ramic lasers were also demonstrated [52–56]. Short-pulsed laser oscilla-
imately 0.1%. In 1974, improved polycrystalline NDY ceramic laser rod, tions were obtained through Kerr-lens mode locking (KLM) using Yb:
with lasing efficiencies as high as ~0.32%, were produced by controlled Sc2O3 and Yb:Lu2O3 ceramics [57,58]. Er3+ or Ho3+ doped sesquioxide
powder preparation and processing, composition, and cooling rate [18]. transparent ceramics are of great interest for high-power eye-safe laser
The lasing efficiencies of some NDY ceramic rods were nearly equal to applications. CW 1.6 μm Er:Y2O3 ceramic laser with slope efficiency of
that of temporal Nd:glass laser rod with excellent optical quality. Al- 64.6% and output power of over 9.3 W has been achieved in a cryogeni-
though the achievement marked the onset of ceramic laser technology, cally cooled operation regime [59]. Resonantly diode-pumped Ho:Y2O3
however, in the following 10 years, laser ceramics were not paid more ceramic laser operation was demonstrated at 2.1 μm with a slope effi-
attention because of the unsatisfying laser performance. In the 1980s, ciency of 35% with respect to absorbed power, and 2.5 W of CW output
translucent YAG ceramics were developed [19–21], and the optical at 77 K [60]. Ultralow quantum-defect eye-safe Er:Sc2O3 ceramic laser
quality of YAG ceramics was not high enough to realize laser oscillation. at 1558 nm with a slope efficiency of over 45% was achieved by resonant
Translucent ceramics contained many optical scattering sources, such pumping at 1535 nm [61].
as grain boundary phase, residual pores and secondary phase, which In recent years, non-oxide based ceramic laser was also developed
caused significant scattering losses that prohibited laser oscillation in very quickly. Fluoride ceramic lasers have been demonstrated base on ac-
the translucent ceramic laser gain medium. In the early 1990s, transpar- tive color centers and rare earth ion doping [62–65]. Diode pumping
ent Nd:YAG ceramics were fabricated by vacuum sintering of Al2O3, nanostructure F2−:LiF color center ceramics at 967 nm led to lasing at
Y2O3 and Nd2O3 powders, and successful laser oscillation was first dem- 1.117 μm with up to 26% slope efficiency and about 3 W output power
onstrated in Japan [22–24]. However, the achievement was not widely [62]. CaF2–SrF2–YbF3 fluoride ceramic laser oscillation with the slope effi-
recognized due to the lack of laser-grade transparent ceramics and the ciency of 45% and more than 1.5 W output power was obtained under
poor laser oscillations of these ceramics. Until 1995, Ikesue et al. first diode pumping [63]. CW 1037 nm Nd:SrF2 fluoride ceramic laser with
fabricated high quality Nd:YAG transparent ceramics by a solid state reac- the maximum slope efficiency of 19% was achieved for 790 nm pumping
tion method and laser outputs with reasonable efficiencies were obtained [64]. As to Pr:SrF2 fluoride ceramic, the first ceramic laser in the visible
[25,26]. Subsequently, a series of highly efficient ceramic laser oscillations spectral range of 639 nm was obtained, whose slope efficiency was
related were reported [27–30]. On the other hand, Yanagitani et al. in
Konoshima Chemical Co. Ltd. improved wet-chemical synthesized pow-
ders, casting techniques, and sintering processes for the fabrication of
Nd:YAG ceramics [31,32]. In the early 2000s, Lu et al. reported the optical
properties and highly efficient laser oscillations of Nd:YAG ceramics fab-
ricated by this method and demonstrated the potential of power scaling
up to the kW-level [33–37]. In 2002, Lu et al., collaborated with Toshiba
Corporation and Konoshima Chemical Co. Ltd., achieved a milestone by
demonstrating an output power of 1.46 kW using a Nd:YAG ceramic
rod with the size of 8 mm in diameter and 203 mm long [38], even
though its oscillation efficiency was 15% lower than that of single crystal.
In recent years, exciting results regarding power scaling have been
reported. In 2006, the solid state heat capacity laser was developed by
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) and a 67-kW quasi-cw
laser was demonstrated using the large-scale Nd:YAG ceramic laser
gain medium with the size of 100mm×100mm×20mm [39]. Then
Northrop Grumman Corporation (NGC) demonstrated the 105 kW
end-pumped Yb:YAG ceramic slab laser and Textron developed the
>100 kW zigzag Nd:YAG ceramic thin slab laser [40]. The collective Fig. 1. Evolution of laser output power versus year for YAG ceramics [40].

Please cite this article as: Li J, et al, The history, development, and future prospects for laser ceramics: A review, Int J Refract Met Hard Mater
(2012), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ijrmhm.2012.10.010
J. Li et al. / Int. Journal of Refractory Metals and Hard Materials xxx (2012) xxx–xxx 3

about 9% [65]. Laser oscillations have also been observed from chalco- La2O3–SiO2 [85] are shown to act as a transient liquid phase sintering
genide ceramics [66]. For example, gain-switched lasing of Cr 2+:ZnSe aids that reduce the sintering temperature of rare earth doped YAG
samples with slope efficiency up to 10% and output energy up to 2 mJ ceramics. As to the forming methods, dry pressing combined with cold
was demonstrated [67]. Most recent, rare-earth-doped anisotropic isostatic pressing (CIP) [25,72,86–88] and slip casting [38,78,89] are
fluorapatite (FAP) ceramics were developed, and diode-pumped Nd: used to fabricate homogeneous rare earth doped YAG transparent
FAP ceramic laser was demonstrated [68–70]. ceramics. And tape casting [90–93] is usually utilized to produce multi-
layer rare earth doped YAG composite ceramics, such as composite Nd:
YAG laser ceramics with the gradient distribution of neodymium ions
3. Fabrication and the general characteristics of laser ceramics [1]. Two most effective ways to sinter YAG transparent ceramics are vac-
uum sintering [25,72,82,94,95] and hot isostatic pressing (HIP) [96].
In this section, fabrication and characteristics of rare earth doped Using the HIP approach, Nd:YAG ceramics with high transparency and
YAG laser ceramics are mainly discussed. Usually, there are two typi- smaller grain size could be obtained along with lower silica additions
cal methods to fabricate high quality rare earth doped YAG (RE:YAG) [97].
transparent ceramics [50]. One is solid-state reactive sintering method In our previous work, highly transparent Nd:YAG ceramics were
[25,71–77] and the other is wet-chemical precipitation and vacuum prepared by the solid-state reaction method and vacuum sintering
sintering technology [38,78–81]. [73,82,98]. Fig. 4 shows the in-line transmittance of the polished
Fig. 2 shows the fabrication process of Nd:YAG transparent ce- 1.0 at.%Nd:YAG transparent ceramics (Ф130mm × 6 mm) fabricated
ramics by a solid-state reactive sintering method [82]. High-purity by a solid-state reactive sintering method [98]. The transmittances
Y2O3, Al2O3, Nd2O3 powders are used as starting materials. These of Nd:YAG ceramic at 1064 and 400 nm are 84.5% and 82.5%, respec-
powders are blended with the stoichiometric ratio of Nd:YAG and ball tively, which hit upper limit of the theoretically calculated values. The
milled in ethanol for proper hours, usually with tetraethyl orthosilicate optical scattering loss of the sample is as low as 0.4% cm−1. The absorp-
(TEOS) as a sintering aid. Then, the ethanol solvent is removed by drying tion spectra and fluorescence spectra of Nd:YAG ceramic and single
the milled slurry and granules are made by spray drying or sieving crystal are almost identical [82].
through a screen. The dried powder mixture is pressed with low pres- The mechanical behavior of the polycrystalline Nd:YAG ceramic is
sure into required shapes and then cold isostatically pressed at relatively very similar to that of the single crystal material. The elastic constant
high pressure. The green bodies are sintered under vacuum at about of Nd:YAG ceramic is almost the same as the single crystal and the ceram-
1750 °C to obtain dense Nd:YAG ceramics. The sintered bodies are ic material shows slight advantages in hardness and fracture toughness
annealed at about 1450 °C in air to remove the oxygen vacancies; highly [82]. There is no significant difference in thermal conductivity and ther-
transparent Nd:YAG can be achieved after optical polishing. mal expansion between Nd:YAG single crystal and ceramic. No residual
Fig. 3 shows the fabrication process of Nd:YAG transparent ceramics pores, secondary phases can be observed in the obtained Nd:YAG ceramic
by wet-chemical precipitation and vacuum sintering technology and the grain boundaries are very thin and clean, as shown in Fig. 5.
[37,38]. The aqueous solutions of Al3+, Y3+ and Nd3+ are homogeneous-
ly mixed. The mixed solution is added dropwise into an aqueous solution
of ammonium hydrogen carbonate, usually with ammonium sulfate as a 4. Characteristics of ceramic lasers
dispersant agent. The YAG precursor is obtained by filtration, washing
with water and/or ethanol for several times, and then drying. After calcin- 4.1. Continuous-wave laser oscillations
ing the precursor at ~1200 °C for several hours, Nd:YAG powder with av-
erage particle size of ~200 nm is obtained. The powder is ball-milled with Nd:YAG ceramic and Nd:YAG single crystal with the same doping
solvent, binder and dispersion medium for 24 h. The milled slurry is concentration were used to determine their laser performance during
formed by slip casting with a gypsum mold, and then a high density CW operation, with the same laser experimental setup. Fig. 6 shows
and uniform green body is obtained. After removing organic components 1064 nm laser output powers versus pump powers for Nd:YAG ceramic
by calcinations in air, the materials are vacuum sintered at 1700–1750 °C and single crystal slabs (93 mm×30 mm×3 mm). Nd:YAG ceramic
for several hours, and then highly transparent Nd:YAG ceramics can be laser output power of 2.44 kW with an optical-to-optical conversion effi-
obtained. ciency of 36.5% was obtained, whose efficiency was only 1% lower than
The mentioned two methods are the most typical YAG ceramic fabri- that of single crystal [98].
cation procedures. Both of them usually use SiO2 as a sintering aid Besides laser oscillations at 1064 nm (4F3/2 → 4I11/2 transition), Nd:
[25,31,32,71,80,82]. Besides, MgO–SiO2 [77,81,83], B2O3–SiO2 [84] and YAG ceramic laser oscillations at 1116 nm [99] and 1123 nm [100,101],

Fig. 2. Solid-state reaction fabrication process of Nd:YAG transparent ceramics [82].

Please cite this article as: Li J, et al, The history, development, and future prospects for laser ceramics: A review, Int J Refract Met Hard Mater
(2012), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ijrmhm.2012.10.010
4 J. Li et al. / Int. Journal of Refractory Metals and Hard Materials xxx (2012) xxx–xxx

Fig. 3. Fabrication process of Nd:YAG transparent ceramics by wet-chemical precipitation and vacuum sintering technology [37,38].

which correspond to the Stark components of the 4F3/2 → 4I11/2, have also was also done by Dong et al. [105] For the low doping concentration,
been reported. The interest in solid-state lasers operating near 1.1 mm the laser performance of ceramics is lower than those of their single
wavelength range for Nd:YAG ceramics is acknowledged for wide appli- crystal counterpart. However, better laser performance was observed
cations in the fields of industry, defense, medical treatment, and scientific for heavy-doped Yb:YAG ceramic than single-crystal, as shown in Fig. 7.
research. For example, 558 nm laser from frequency-doubled 1116 nm Besides 1 μm Nd:YAG and Yb:YAG ceramic lasers, eye safe Er:YAG,
Nd:YAG that is an alternative to the currently used He–Ne 543 nm and Tm:YAG and Ho:YAG ceramic laser were also widely studied. High
Kr 568 nm laser, also is suitable for laser display and lighting because power lasers operating in the eye-safe wavelength range near ~1.6 μm
it is the most sensitive wavelength to our eyes. A diode-side-pumped are required for a number of applications including range finding, laser
quasi-continuous-wave (QCW) Nd:YAG ceramic laser operating at radar and free-space communication. Er:YAG ceramic lasers usually
1116 nm is demonstrated. Output power of 248 W at 1116 nm is operate at 1645 nm [106] due to the strong reabsorption at 1617 nm
obtained at a pump power of 1000 W, corresponding to an optical transition that results in a higher lasing threshold for this wavelength.
conversion efficiency of 24.8% [99]. For diode-side-pumped Nd:YAG Li et al. [107] demonstrated the efficient and high power laser operation
ceramic laser at 1123 nm, the output of 509 W was obtained with the of polycrystalline Er:YAG ceramic under in-band pumping at 1532 nm.
optical-to-optical conversion efficiency of 25.5% [101]. The CW laser output of 13 W at 1645 nm with a slope efficiency of
Compared with Nd:YAG ceramic laser, diode pumped Yb:YAG ce- 50.8% was obtained, as shown in Fig. 8. For achieving the laser oscillation
ramic laser has several advantages, such as low thermal load, long at 1617 nm, the 1645 nm component should be suppressed from lasing
upper state lifetime, large absorption width around the InGaAs laser before 1617 nm reaches threshold. By employing an output coupler of
emission range, relative large emission cross section, high thermal relatively high transmission to increase the resonator loss, a high-power
conductivity, and strong energy-storing capacity [102]. Pumped by Er:YAG ceramic laser at 1617 nm resonantly pumped by a high-power
fiber-pigtailed laser diode at 968 nm with 400 μm fiber core, 5 at.%Yb: 1532 nm Er,Yb fiber laser was also reported [43]. With an output coupler
YAG ceramic laser output of 39.6 W average power at 1050 nm was of 15% transmission and 0.5 at.% Er:YAG ceramic as the gain media, laser
obtained with a slope efficiency of 43.3% [103]. Dong et al. [104] inves- output of 14 W at 1617 nm was obtained with a slope efficiency of 51.7%
tigated the Laser performance of heavy-doped Yb:YAG ceramics using a with respect to incident pump power.
two-pass pumping miniature laser configuration. Slope efficiency of Tm 3+ activated laser materials have attracted much attention for
52% and optical-to-optical efficiency of 48% have been achieved for the 2 μm eye-safe wavelength regions because of their potential ap-
1-mm-thick Yb:YAG ceramic. Comparative study on the effect of Yb plications in atmospheric, medicinal, and space applications [108].In
concentrations on laser characteristics of Yb:YAG ceramics and crystals recent years, high quality Tm:YAG laser ceramics have been success-
fully fabricated and the efficient continuous wave and Q-switching
operations have been reported [44,45,109–113]. Zhang et al. first demon-
strated 2015 nm laser oscillation of Tm:YAG ceramic by end-pumping at
792 nm. The maximum laser output power of 4.5 W was obtained
with a slope efficiency of 20.5% [109]. The output power of 17.2 W at
2016 nm with a slope efficiency of 36.5% was also reported by diode
end-pumping [44]. In addition, Wang et al. demonstrated highly efficient
Tm:YAG ceramic laser operation resonantly pumped by an Er:YAG laser
at 1617 nm. The laser yielded 7.3 W of output power at 2015 nm corre-
sponding to a slope efficiency with respect to incident pump power of
62.3% [45]. Further investigation showed that Tm:YAG ceramic laser
could operate simultaneously at multiple wavelengths in a wide range
of 1884–2017 nm [113], as shown in Fig. 9.
Ho:YAG ceramic lasers operating in the eye-safe 2 μm spectral re-
gion also have numerous applications. High quality Ho:YAG transparent
ceramics were fabricated and laser oscillations have been demonstrated
[46,47,114]. The 1 at.% Ho:YAG ceramic slab was end-pumped by a
Fig. 4. In-line transmittance of 1.0 at.%Nd:YAG transparent ceramic disk (Ф130mm×6 mm) Tm-YLF laser at 1910 nm and the maximum output power of 1.95 W
[98]. was yielded with a slope efficiency of 44.19% [114]. Inband pumped by

Please cite this article as: Li J, et al, The history, development, and future prospects for laser ceramics: A review, Int J Refract Met Hard Mater
(2012), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ijrmhm.2012.10.010
J. Li et al. / Int. Journal of Refractory Metals and Hard Materials xxx (2012) xxx–xxx 5

Fig. 5. (a) EPMA micrograph of the fractured surface and (b) HRTEM image of grain boundary with corresponding SEAD as inset of 1.0 at.%Nd:YAG transparent ceramic [82].

a Tm3+-doped fiber laser at 1907 nm, a highly efficient and high-power 4.3. Composite ceramic lasers
Ho:YAG ceramic laser oscillation at 2097 nm was also obtained. The
laser yielded over 21.4 W of CW output power with a slope efficiency of Composite ceramic laser is a new type of laser [9]. Composite tech-
63.6% and an optical conversion efficiency of 61.1% [49]. nology was initially introduced in order to enhance the laser perfor-
mance by polishing and diffusion bonding the single crystals having
4.2. Short-pulse laser oscillations the same crystal structure but different compositions. In conventional
technology, however, the design of composites is very limited and the
Short pulse operation can generate very large energy at pulse widths
ranging from microsecond to femtosecond and widely used in laser ab-
lation, energy transfer, and so on [2]. To generate a short-pulse laser, the
fluorescence spectral line width of the laser material must be broad. It is
considered that Nd- or Yb-doped YSAG (Y3Sc1Al4O12) ceramic has the
advantage for high-power diode-pumped ps~ fs short pulse laser oscil-
lation due to its broad-emission bandwidth and small quantum defect
[115]. As the fluorescence spectral line width of Nd:YSAG ceramic is
broader than that of Nd:YAG ceramic, it is effective for short pulse
laser oscillation, and 10 ps pulse laser operation was realized by using
it in the mode-locked oscillation [116]. Although Yb:YAG single crystal
has a wide band of absorption and emission spectra, a further broaden-
ing of spectrum was confirmed in the Yb:YSAG ceramic, as shown in
Fig. 10 [117]. A passively mode-locked Yb:YSAG ceramic laser has also
been demonstrated by using a semiconductor saturable-absorber mir-
ror. With a 0.5% output coupler, pulses as short as 280 fs having an
average output power of 62 mW at 1035.8 nm were obtained [118].

Fig. 7. Output power of (a) Yb:YAG ceramic and (b) Yb:YAG single crystal miniature lasers
Fig. 6. Laser output powers at 1064 nm versus pump powers for Nd:YAG ceramic and as a function of absorbed pump power for different Yb concentrations and transmissions
single crystal slabs [98]. of the output couplings [105].

Please cite this article as: Li J, et al, The history, development, and future prospects for laser ceramics: A review, Int J Refract Met Hard Mater
(2012), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ijrmhm.2012.10.010
6 J. Li et al. / Int. Journal of Refractory Metals and Hard Materials xxx (2012) xxx–xxx

Fig. 10. Absorption and fluorescence spectra of a 15 at.%Yb:YSAG ceramic and a com-
mercial 25 at.%Yb:YAG single crystal [117].
Fig. 8. Laser output power versus incident pump power for 1.0 at.%Er:YAG transparent
ceramic with output coupler of 10% transmission. Inset shows the output spectrum of
the Er:YAG ceramic laser at 1645 nm [107]. According to the manufacturing process of ceramics, composite
ceramic laser materials can be easily fabricated together and this ad-
bonding interface is weak. However, the direct forming process of ce- vantage provides more freedom in the design of laser systems. Com-
ramic manufacture does not require high-precise optical polishing posite YAG/0.25 at.%Er:YAG/0.5 at.%Er:YAG ceramics were fabricated
and diffusion bonding, so it takes shorter time to fabricate the com- by the colloidal co-casting process and solid-state reactive sintering
posite aser ceramics. Moreover, designing a composite with a complicat- approach [91]. Laser operation of such a composite ceramic Er:YAG
ed configuration is also possible [9,119,120]. Highly transparent YAG/ rod was demonstrated at 1645 nm with a slope efficiency of 56.9%
2.0 at.%Nd:YAG transparent ceramic with the size of Ф56mm×6 mm under resonant pumping at 1532.3 nm [41]. Composite Yb:YAG/Cr4+:
was fabricated, whose in-line transmittance was as high as 83.6% at las- YAG ceramics were prepared by the advanced ceramic technology and
ing wavelength of 1064 nm, as shown in Fig. 11 [120]. Liu et al. fabricated utilized for ultra-short laser gain materials. Laser performance of
the large-scaled composite YAG/1.0 at.%Nd:YAG/YAG transparent ce- all-ceramic composite Yb:YAG/Cr4+:YAG self-Q-switched laser by
ramic and demonstrated the CW laser oscillation of the composite laser using plane-concave cavity has been reported and nanosecond pulses
gain media [121]. However, the optical-to-optical conversion efficiency with pulse energy of 125 μJ and peak power of over 105 kW were mea-
was only 10.1% due the relatively high optical scattering loss of the com- sured [122]. However, there is coating damage occurrence owing to the
posite laser ceramic.
Laser characteristics of three types of composite elements were
also reported by Ikesue and Aung and over 50% slope efficiency was
achieved in each composite and a high beam quality TEM00 mode was
also realized, as shown in Fig. 12 [9]. A ceramic composite laser is anal-
ogous to the single-crystal type in configuration, but they are different
from each other with respect to technical advantages. In the case of a
single-crystal composite, the neodymium doping profiles are monoton-
ic, whereas the ceramic composite has an almost ideal Gaussian distri-
bution, which facilitates the generation of Gaussian-mode lasing [1,8].
It is very important to control the temperature in laser gain media dur-
ing laser operation because thermal lensing effects greatly degrade the
laser oscillation efficiency, as well as the laser beam quality. The ceramic
composite element with the gradient distribution of neodymium ions
can effectively suppress the heat generation during laser oscillation.

Fig. 11. Photograph (a) and in-line transmittance (b) of the YAG/2.0 at.%Nd:YAG trans-
Fig. 9. Wavelength tuning operation of the Tm:YAG ceramic laser [113]. parent ceramic (Ф56mm × 6 mm) [120].

Please cite this article as: Li J, et al, The history, development, and future prospects for laser ceramics: A review, Int J Refract Met Hard Mater
(2012), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ijrmhm.2012.10.010
J. Li et al. / Int. Journal of Refractory Metals and Hard Materials xxx (2012) xxx–xxx 7

Fig. 12. Laser performance of various types of composite elements [9].

high reflectivity of the output coupler and low initial transmission of Nowadays, rare earth doped YAG laser ceramics have attracted much
Cr 4 +:YAG saturable absorber in composite Yb:YAG/Cr 4 +:YAG ce- attention because the optical quality has been improved greatly and high-
ramic. Efficient laser-diode pumped picosecond self-Q-switched novel ly efficient laser oscillations can be obtained whose efficiencies are com-
all-ceramic composite Yb:YAG/Cr4+:YAG microchip laser with 0.72 MW parable or superior to those of single crystals [9,34,41,47,98,126]. And
peak power has also been developed. High slope efficiency of 29% at lasing properties that cannot be achieved by conventional single-crystal
1030 nm, laser pulses with 172 μJ pulse energy and 237 ps pulse width technology have been realized using ceramics. However, the laser ceram-
at repetition rate of 3.5 kHz were achieved [123]. ic field is still at the research and development stage. So it will take more
years to commercialize laser ceramic materials for applications.
5. Future outlook
Acknowledgment
The diverse structures and physical properties of activated lasing
crystals in combination with powerful and long-lived semiconductor This work was supported by the Fund of the National Natural Science
laser diodes (LDs) as pumping sources have led to a veritable revolu- Foundation of China (Grant nos. 51002172, 51102257, 91022035, and
tion in the progress of solid-state laser (SSL) engineering. At present, 50990301).
this branch of the research and development of LD pumped crystalline
lasers continues to grow very fast [124]. The development history of References
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Please cite this article as: Li J, et al, The history, development, and future prospects for laser ceramics: A review, Int J Refract Met Hard Mater
(2012), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ijrmhm.2012.10.010