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Harmonic generation


Perturbative Harmonic Generation

Perturbative Harmonic Generation is a process where by laser light of frequency ω and photon energy ħω can be used to generate new frequencies of light. The newly generated frequencies are integer multiples of the fundamental nħω and this process was first discovered in 1961 by Franken et al[1], with a ruby laser and crystalline quartz as the non linear medium.

Harmonic generation in dielectric solids is well understood and extensively used in modern laser physics see second harmonic generation. In 1967 New et al observed the first third harmonic generation in a gas [2]. In monatomic gases it is only possible to produce odd numbered harmonics for reasons of symmetry. Harmonic generation in the perturbative (weak field) regime is characterised by rapidly decreasing efficiency with increasing harmonic order and harmonics up to the 11th order have been observed under these conditions [3]. This behaviour can be understood by considering the electron having absorbed n photons then emitting a single high energy photon. The probability of absorbing n photons decreases as n increases, explaining the rapid decrease in the initial harmonic intensities.

High Harmonic Generation (HHG)

The first High Harmonic Generation (HHG) was observed in 1988 [4], with surprising results. The high harmonic spectra were found to decrease in intensity at low orders but then form a plateau, whereby the intensity of the harmonics remain approximately constant over many orders[5]. Plateau harmonics spanning hundreds of eV have been measured which extend into the soft x-ray regime[6]. This plateau ends abruptly at a position called the High Harmonic Cut-off.

Properties of High Harmonics

High harmonics have a number of interesting properties. They are a tunable table-top source of XUV/Soft X-rays, synchronised with the driving laser and produced with the same repetition rate. The harmonic cut-off varies linearly with increasing laser intensity up until the saturation intensity Isat where harmonic generation stops[7]. The saturation intensity can be increased by changing the atomic species to lighter noble gases but these have a lower conversion efficiency so there is a balance to be found depending on the photon energies required.

High harmonic generation strongly depends on the driving laser field and as a result the harmonics have similar temporal and spatial coherence properties[8]. High harmonics are often generated with pulse durations shorter than that of the driving laser. This is due to phase matching and ionisation. Often harmonics are only produced in a very small temporal window when the phase matching condition is met. Depletion of the generating media due to ionisation also means that harmonic generation is mainly confined to the leading edge of the driving pulse[9].

High harmonics are emitted co-linearly with the driving laser and can have a very tight angular confinement, sometimes with less divergence than that of the fundamental field and near Gaussian beam profiles[10].

Semi-classical approach to describe HHG

The maximum photon energy producible with high harmonic generation is given by the cut-off of the harmonic plateau. This can be calculated classically by examining the maximum energy the ionized electron can gain in the electric field of the laser. The cut-off energy is given by,

Emax = Ip + 3.17Up

Where Up is the Ponderomotive Energy from the laser field and Ip is the ionization potential.

This derivation of the cut-off energy is derived from a semi-classical calculation whereby, the electron is treated quantum mechanically while it tunnel ionises from the parent atom (see tunnel ionization)and its subsequent dynamics are treated with classically. The electron is assumed to be born into the continuum with zero initial velocity and is then accelerated by the laser E-field. Half an optical cycle after ionisation the electron will reverse direction as the E-field changes and accelerate back towards the parent nucleus. Upon returning to the parent nucleus it can then emit bremsstrahlung-like radiation during a recombination process with the atom as it returns back to its ground state. This description has become known as the recollisional model of high harmonic generation [11].

Some interesting limits on the HHG process which are explained by this model show that HHG will only occur if the driving laser field is linearly polarised. Ellipticity on the laser beam causes the returning electron to miss the parent nucleus. Quantum mechanically, the overlap of the returning electron wavepacket with the nuclear wavepacket is reduced. This has been observed experimentally, where the intensity of harmonics decreases rapidly with increasing ellipticity[12]. Another effect which limits the intensity of the driving laser is the Lorentz force. At intensities above 1016 Wcm-2 the magnetic component of the laser pulse which is ignored in weak field optics, can become strong enough to deflect the returning electron. This will cause it to 'miss' the parent nucleus and hence prevent HHG.


  1. ^ P. A. Franken, A. E. Hill, C. W. Peters, and G. Weinreich, Phys. Rev. Lett. 7, 118 (1961).
  2. ^ G. H. C. New and J. F. Ward, Phys. Rev. Lett. 19, 556 (1967).
  3. ^ J. Wildenauer, Journal of Applied Physics 62, 41 (1987).
  4. ^ M. Ferray et al., Journal of Physics B-Atomic Molecular and Optical Physics 21, L31 (1988).
  5. ^ X. F. Li, A. L'Huillier, M. Ferray, L. A. Lompre, and G. Mainfray, Physical Review A 39, 5751 (1989).
  6. ^ J. Seres et al., Nature 433, 596 (2005).
  7. ^ T. Brabec and F. Krausz, Reviews of Modern Physics 72, 545 (2000).
  8. ^ A. L'Huillier, K. J. Schafer, and K. C. Kulander, Journal of Physics B Atomic Molecular and Optical Physics 24, 3315 (1991).
  9. ^ K. J. Schafer and K. C. Kulander, Physical Review Letters 78, 638 (1997).
  10. ^ J. W. G. Tisch et al., Physical Review A 49, R28 (1994).
  11. ^ P. B. Corkum, Physical Review Letters 71, 1994 (1993).
  12. ^ P. Dietrich, N. H. Burnett, M. Ivanov, and P. B. Corkum, Physical Review A 50, R3585 (1994).
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Harmonic_generation". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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