Pulsed lasers refer to any laser not classified as a continuous wave. The optical power appears in pulses of some duration and at some repetition rate. Pulsed lasers have a gain medium that is typically optically pumped using either a flashlamp or by laser diodes (DPSS). Pulsed Lasers utilize a Q-Switch to store energy and release it then it pulses, unlike CW lasers and Laser Diodes which emits energy continuously. Pulsed Lasers are available in wide range of pulse widths from femtosecond through millisecond. The repetition rates range from single shot to Mhz.
Some applications require the production of pulses having as large an energy as possible. The pulse energy is equal to the average power divided by the repetition rate, this can sometimes by attained by lowering the repetition rate so that more energy can be built up in between the pulses.
Other applications rely on the peak pulse power (versus the energy in the pulse), especially to achieve nonlinear optical effects. For any given pulse energy, this requires creating pulses of the shortest possible duration by using techniques such as Q-switching. In laser ablation for example, a small volume of material at the surface of a work piece can be evaporated if it is heated in a very short time, whereas supplying the energy gradually would allow for the heat to be absorbed into the bulk of the piece, never attaining a sufficiently high temperature at a particular point.
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Active Q-Switched Lasers allow the precise control of both the pulse width and repetition rate of the laser.
Passive Q-Switched Lasers contain a Saturable Absorber that when continuously pumped produces a regular pulse train. Passive Q-Switch lasers cannot precisely control the pulse externally.
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