Spatiotemporal mode-locking in multimode fiber lasers

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Harnessing complexity in laser lightThe development of lasers and the quality of the output light has been crucially dependent on understanding and being able to control the process occurring within the laser-generating cavity. In a real laser cavity, there are both longitudinal and transverse modes; for the highest-quality lasers, reducing the effects of the latter has been standard practice. However, using a graded index fiber cavity, Wright et al. demonstrate that the longitudinal and transverse modes can be locked to provide an output of complex coherent light. Harnessing, rather than filtering out, the transverse modes could produce a valuable and flexible light source applicable across a broad range of disciplines.Science, this issue p. 94A laser is based on the electromagnetic modes of its resonator, which provides the feedback required for oscillation. Enormous progress has been made toward controlling the interactions of longitudinal modes in lasers with a single transverse mode. For example, the field of ultrafast science has been built on lasers that lock many longitudinal modes together to form ultrashort light pulses. However, coherent superposition of longitudinal and transverse modes in a laser has received little attention. We show that modal and chromatic dispersions in fiber lasers can be counteracted by strong spatial and spectral filtering. This allows locking of multiple transverse and longitudinal modes to create ultrashort pulses with a variety of spatiotemporal profiles. Multimode fiber lasers thus open new directions in studies of nonlinear wave propagation and capabilities for applications.

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