Ultrashort light pulses are ubiquitous in modern research but the electromagnetic field of the optical cycles is usually not easy to obtain as a function of time. Field-resolved pulse characterization requires either a nonlinear-optical process or auxiliary sampling pulses that are shorter than the waveform under investigation and pulse metrology without at least one of these two prerequisites is often thought to be impossible.

The “Light and matter” group led by Prof Peter Baum at the Department of Physics of the University of Konstanz has now reported how the optical field cycles of laser pulses can be characterized with field-linear sensitivity and no ultrashort probe events.

A free-space electron beam is let to cross with the waveform of interest. Randomly arriving electrons interact by means of their elementary charge with the optical waveform in a linear-optical way and reveal the optical cycles as the turning points in a time-integrated deflection histogram. The sensitivity is only limited by the electron-beam emittance and can reach the level of thermal radiation and vacuum fluctuations. Besides overturning a common belief in optical pulse metrology, the idea also provides practical perspectives for in situ characterization and optimization of optical waveforms in higher-harmonics experiments, ultrafast transmission electron microscopes, laser-driven particle accelerators, free-electron lasers, or generally any experiments with waveform-controlled laser pulses in a vacuum environment.

Original publication:

Yuya Morimoto, Bo-Han Chen, and Peter Baum

Ultrashort Free-Electron Tomography of Few-Cycle Optical Waveforms

Ann. Phys. (Berlin) 2022, 2200193