An Er:Yb:KGd(PO3)4 crystal doped with 1.83 at.% Er3+ and 3.98 at.% Yb3+ was grown by the top seeded solution method, and polarized spectroscopic properties of the crystal were investigated at room temperature. Fluorescence lifetimes of the 4I11/2 and 4I13/2 multiplets of Er3+ were measured to be about 1.54 μs and 6.32 ms, respectively. Fluorescence quantum efficiency of the 4I13/2 multiplet of Er3+ and energy transfer efficiency from Yb3+ to Er3+ were estimated to be 60% and 62%, respectively. The results indicate that the spectroscopic properties of the Er:Yb:KGd(PO3)4 crystal related to 1.55 μm laser operation are comparable to those of the commercial Er:Yb:phosphate glass and the crystal is a promising gain medium for the eye-safe 1.55 μm laser.
© 2016 Optical Society of America
Er3+/Yb3+ co-doped materials have been extensively studied as gain media of 1.55 μm laser [1–5], which is eye-safe and has been applied in many fields, such as optical communication, remote sensing and lidar . Among these materials, Er3+/Yb3+ co-doped phosphate glass has been proven to be the most attractive for its large energy storage capacity (8.0 ms fluorescence lifetime of the upper laser level 4I13/2 of Er3+) and high operation efficiency (about 30~40%) . However, relatively low thermal conductivity (0.8 Wm−1K−1) of the phosphate glass limits its maximum average output power and then prevents it from wider practical applications .
In general, crystal has higher thermal conductivity and mechanical performance compared with glass. Therefore, 1.55 μm laser with higher average output power can be realized in Er3+/Yb3+ co-doped crystals. At present, Er3+/Yb3+ co-doped borate crystals have been considered as one kind of the most potential gain media for 1.55 μm laser [3,5]. For example, 1.55 μm lasers with continuous-wave output power of 1 W and slope efficiency higher than 30% have been realized in the Er3+/Yb3+ co-doped RAl3(BO3)4 (R = Y, Gd or Lu) crystals [7–9]. However, due to the high phonon energy (≈1400 cm−1) of the borate crystals , the fluorescence lifetimes of the upper laser level 4I13/2 of Er3+ in the crystals are generally shorter than 1 ms, which decrease their energy storage capacities and limits output energy of 1.55 μm laser. Compared with phosphate glass, phosphate crystals have similar phonon energy but higher thermal conductivity so that they may be a kind of promising candidate as gain medium for 1.55 μm laser. However, to our knowledge, the investigations of Er3+/Yb3+ co-doped phosphate crystals as 1.55 μm laser gain media are still rare up to now .
KGd(PO3)4 (hereafter KGP) crystal belongs to monoclinic system with space group P21 and has a noncentrosymmetric structure. Its cell parameters are: a = 7.255(4) Å, b = 8.356(5) Å, c = 7.934(5) Å, β = 91.68(5)°, Z = 2, V = 480.80(5) Å3 . The KGP is incongruent melting at 874°C. With the advantages of almost isotropic thermal expansion, large band gap and high hardness close to that of quartz , the KGP crystals singly-doped with Yb3+ or Nd3+ have been demonstrated as the gain media for 1.0 μm laser [12,13]. Although the maximum output power (about 100 mW) is low, which is limited by the small size of the used crystal and doping level, the slope efficiency (55%) achieved in the Yb:KGP crystal is adequately high . For the Nd:KGP crystal, the laser slope efficiency realized at present is 26%, which will be enhanced by optimizing the output coupler transmission and the propagation direction and the polarization of the pumping laser . Therefore, the KGP crystal is a promising laser host. Furthermore, the high cutoff phonon energy (about 1200 cm−1 ) of the KGP crystal can significantly enhance the multiphonon relaxation from the 4I11/2 multiplet of Er3+, and then effectively restrain the back energy-transfer from Er3+ to Yb3+ and the up-conversion losses, which are favorable for efficient 1.55 μm laser operation . In this work, an Er3+/Yb3+ co-doped KGP crystal was firstly grown and its polarized spectroscopic properties related to 1.55 μm laser were investigated. Spectroscopic parameters of the crystal were compared with those of Er3+/Yb3+ co-doped phosphate glass as well as some other crystals, and its potentiality as 1.55 μm laser gain medium was evaluated.
2. Crystal growth
An Er3+/Yb3+ co-doped KGP crystal was grown with self-flux KPO3 by the top seeded solution method. Referencing to the data in Ref , the solution in this work was prepared with compositions (1-x-y)Gd2O3 + xEr2O3 + yYb2O3: K2O: P2O5 = 5.6: 34.4: 60, where x = 0.032 and y = 0.10. Raw materials of Ln2O3 (4N) (Ln = Gd, Er, Yb), K2CO3 (AR) and NH4H2PO4 (AR) were weighed and the mixture was melted at 900°C. A Φ40 × 40 mm3 Pt crucible was selected as container. The saturation temperature was measured to be about 782°C. A small pure KGP seed oriented along the a crystallographic direction was used to grow the crystal. The seed holder rotated at a velocity of 60 rpm. The cooling program was set at 0.02°C/h in the first 2 hours and 0.04°C/h in the next 15 hours. Furthermore, in order to investigate the fluorescence lifetime of the 4I11/2 multiplet of Er3+, a small Er:KGP crystal was grown from 3.2 at% Er3+ doped solution with the similar experimental condition.
Er3+ and Yb3+ concentrations in the grown Er:Yb:KGP crystal were determined to be 1.83 at.% (7.65 × 1019 cm−3) and 3.98 at.% (1.66 × 1020 cm−3), respectively, and the Er3+ concentration was measured to be 1.65 at.% (6.90 × 1019 cm−3) in the Er:KGP crystal, by the inductively coupled plasma atomic emission spectrometry (ICP-AES, Ultima2, Jobin-Yvon). Segregation coefficients of Er3+ and Yb3+ in the crystal were calculated to be 0.57 and 0.40, respectively. The Er3+ concentration (7.65 × 1019 cm−3) in the Er:Yb:KGP crystal was referred to those of the optimized Er3+/Yb3+ co-doped YAB (8.3 × 1019 cm−3 ) and YCOB (6.2 × 1019 cm−3 ) crystals, in which efficient 1.55 μm lasers have been demonstrated. The Yb3+ concentration in the Er:Yb:KGP crystal has been doped as high as possible while higher Yb3+ concentration would result in poor crystal quality for the present crystal growth conditions. The as-grown Er:Yb:KGP crystal with a size of about 16 × 21 × 10 mm3 was generally transparent and crack-free. Then, the crystal was cut and polished into a cuboid with dimensions of 4.0 × 6.0 × 6.7 mm3 for spectral experiments, as shown in Fig. 1. Each edge of the cuboid was oriented parallel to one of the three principal optical axes, named X, Y and Z (refractive index nX<nY<nZ). Some cracks appeared on the corners of the crystal were generated in the cutting process caused by the relatively high hardness (close to quartz). In this work, the growth of the Er:Yb:KGP crystal was accomplished with a Φ40 × 40 mm3 Pt crucible. The Er:Yb:KGP crystal with a larger size will be grown by using a larger size of container in the future.
3. Spectroscopic properties
Room temperature (RT) polarized absorption spectra in a range from 280 to 1700 nm recorded by an UV-VIS-NIR spectrophotometer (Lambda-950, Perkin-Elmer) are shown in Fig. 2(a). The spectra display strong polarized dependence due to the anisotropy of the crystal. For clarity, the polarized absorption spectra from 900 to 1050 nm consisted of the transitions 2F7/2→2F5/2 of Yb3+ and 4I15/2→4I11/2 of Er3+, which are used as the pumping band of 1.55 μm laser, are shown in Fig. 2(b). For most of the host materials, the absorption cross-section at 977 nm of Er3+ is far lower (about an order of magnitude) than that of Yb3+ [14–16]. Therefore, the absorption at 977 nm is mainly originated from the contribution of Yb3+ in the Er3+/Yb3+ co-doped materials, in which Er3+ concentration is lower than Yb3+ concentration. Then, for convenience, the absorption cross-section of the Er:Yb:KGP crystal at 977 nm was estimated roughly by dividing the value of absorption coefficient by Yb3+ concentration. The peak absorption cross-sections are calculated to be 0.72 × 10−20, 1.06 × 10−20 and 0.82 × 10−20 cm2 for E//X, E//Y and E//Z polarizations, respectively, and all at wavelength of 977 nm. The values are similar to those of the Yb3+ singly-doped KGP crystal demonstrated in Ref , for three polarizations, respectively, which also means that the Er3+ absorption at 977 nm in the Er:Yb:KGP crystal is weak. The maximum value is similar to that of the Er3+/Yb3+ co-doped phosphate glass (≈1 × 10−20 cm2 at 976 nm) . The full width at half maximum (FWHM) of the absorption band around 977 nm for E//Y polarization of the crystal is 19 nm, which is larger than those of the Er3+/Yb3+ co-doped phosphate glass (10 nm) and YAB crystal (17 nm) [1,5]. It indicates that the Er:Yb:KGP crystal is more suitable to be pumped by diode laser when the emission bandwidth and wavelength shifting with temperature of diode laser are taken into account. Furthermore, based on the Judd-Ofelt theory [17,18], spontaneous emission probabilities for various transitions of Er3+ can be calculated from the absorption spectra. Here for brevity, only the values for the 4I13/2 →4I15/2 transition related to 1.55 μm laser are presented and the detailed calculating process can be found in . For E//X, E//Y, and E//Z polarizations, the values are 87.32, 107.97, and 89.85 s−1, respectively. Then, the radiative lifetime τr of the 4I13/2 multiplet of Er3+ in the KGP crystal is estimated to be 10.52 ms.
RT polarized fluorescence spectra from 1440 to 1640 nm under excitation at 976 nm were recorded using a spectrometer (FLS980, Edinburgh). Polarized emission cross-sections were calculated from the recorded fluorescence spectra by the Fuchtbauer-Ladenburg (FL) formula , and are shown in Fig. 3(a). The peak emission cross-sections are 0.54 × 10−20, 0.60 × 10−20 and 0.56 × 10−20 cm2 for E//X, E//Y and E//Z polarizations, respectively, and all at wavelength of 1537 nm. The maximum emission cross-section of the Er:Yb:KGP crystal is closed to those of the Er:Yb:phosphate glass (0.8 × 10−20 cm2 at 1535 nm)  and Er:Yb:YAG crystal (0.6 × 10−20 cm2 at 1646 nm) . Because the emission cross-section spectrum corresponding to the 4I13/2→4I15/2 transition calculated by the F-L formula may be distorted by the radiation trapping effect , the reciprocity method (RM)  based on the measured absorption spectrum free from the radiation trapping effect was also adopted to calculate the emission spectrum, in which the zero line energy, Ezpl, corresponds usually to the maximum of absorption . It can be seen from Fig. 3(b) that the spectra calculated by the above two methods are similar in the peak positions and shape, which means the radiation trapping effect in the Er:Yb:KGP crystal for the used Er3+ concentration is weak . Then, the gain cross-section σg for E//Y polarization versus different population inversion ratio β, i.e. the ratio of the number of Er3+ in the upper laser level 4I13/2 to the total number of Er3+ can be calculated byFig. 4. The peak wavelength of gain curve for E//Y polarization with β = 0.5 is located at 1537 nm with FWHM of 48 nm.
By using a microsecond flash lamp (μF900, Edinburgh) as the exciting source, RT fluorescence decay curves of some multiplets of Er3+ related to the 1.55 μm laser were recorded by the spectrometer (FLS980, Edinburgh). When the exciting and emission wavelengths were 976 and 1537 nm, respectively, the fluorescence decay curve of the 4I13/2 multiplet in the Er:Yb:KGP bulk crystal was recorded and is shown in Fig. 5(a) and the fitted fluorescence lifetime is about 6.91 ms. To avoid the influence of radiation trapping effect on the measurement of lifetime , powder sample of the crystal immersed in refractive index-matching fluid monochlorobenzene (refractive index n = 1.52) was also used [21,25], the fitted fluorescence lifetime is about 6.32 ms and also shown in Fig. 5(a). Additionally, the fluorescence decay curve of 4I13/2 multiplet of the Er:KGP crystal powder sample was measured at 1574 nm with exciting at 1503 nm, as shown in Fig. 5(b). The fitted fluorescence lifetime was 6.25 ms and close to that of the Er:Yb:KGP crystal powder sample. The small discrepancy of measured lifetimes between the crystal and powder samples means that the radiation trapping effect is not serious in the Er:Yb:KGP crystal, which may be originated from low Er3+ concentration in the crystal . Combining with the radiative lifetime (10.52 ms) calculated above, the fluorescence quantum efficiency of the 4I13/2 multiplet in the Er:Yb:KGP crystal is estimated to be 60%, and is much higher than those of the Er3+/Yb3+ co-doped borate crystals, such as YAB (8.3%)  and YCOB (21%) , which is caused by the lower phonon energy of KGP (≈1200 cm−1) than that of borate crystals (≈1400 cm−1). However, the fluorescence quantum efficiency of the 4I13/2 multiplet in the Er:Yb:KGP crystal is still lower than that of the Er:Yb:phosphate glass (80%) , and a main reason may be originated from low crystal optical quality, such as impurities and defects existed in the as-grown crystal, which are nonradiative traps of excitation energy and thus result in decrement of the fluorescence lifetime .
Taking into account the overlap of emission bands between the transitions of 2F5/2→2F7/2 for Yb3+ and 4I11/2→4I15/2 for Er3+, the grown Er3+ singly-doped KGP crystal was used for measuring the fluorescence lifetime of the 4I11/2 multiplet of Er3+. Excited at 519 nm by an OPO pulse laser (Vibrant 355II, OPOTEK) with pulse duration of 5 ns, the fluorescence decay curve at 980nm of the Er:KGP crystal powder sample was recorded by a spectrometer (FLS980, Edinburgh) and is shown in Fig. 5(c). The fluorescence lifetime of the 4I11/2 multiplet of Er3+ is fitted to be about 1.54μs, which is similar to that of the Er3+/Yb3+ co-doped phosphate glass (2~3 μs)  and much shorter than those of the Er3+/Yb3+ co-doped YAG (100 μs)  and YVO4 (28 μs) crystals . It is well known that a shorter fluorescence lifetime of the 4I11/2 multiplet will make more excited ions populate in the upper laser level 4I13/2 by decreasing up-conversion loss and reverse energy transfer from Er3+ to Yb3+, and then benefit the operation of 1.55 μm laser .
The energy transfer efficiency from Yb3+ to Er3+ was estimated by , where τ0 and τf represent the fluorescence lifetimes of the 2F5/2 multiplet of Yb3+ in Yb3+ singly-doped and Er3+/Yb3+ co-doped KGP crystals, respectively . Powder samples in the refractive index-matching fluid monochlorobenzene were also used to measure the fluorescence decay curves of the 2F5/2 multiplet of Yb3+, which are not shown here for the brevity. The fluorescence lifetimes of Yb3+ in the Er:Yb:KGP and Yb:KGP (4.43 at.%) crystals were fitted to be 0.50 ms and 1.31 ms, respectively. Therefore, the energy transfer efficiency ηET is about 62%. The spectroscopic parameters of the Er3+/Yb3+ co-doped phosphate glass and crystals related to the 1.55 μm laser are listed in the Table 1. Compared with that of the Er:Yb:phosphate glass, the lower transfer efficiency of the Er:Yb:KGP crystal may be caused by the lower Yb3+ concentration (about 1.66 × 1020 cm−3 in the crystal whereas 10 × 1020 cm−3 in the glass) . It has been demonstrated that the Yb3+concentration can be raised to 25~30 at.% in the KGP crystal through optimizing the crystallization region . Therefore, the Yb3+ concentration in the Er:Yb:KGP needs to be further optimized for increasing the energy transfer efficiency.
A KGP crystal doped with 1.83 at.% Er3+ and 3.98 at.% Yb3+ was firstly grown by the top seeded solution method. Compared with the Er3+/Yb3+ co-doped YAG and YVO4 crystals, in which low laser operation efficiencies (lower than 7%) have been demonstrated, the Er:Yb:KGP crystal is impressive with its much shorter fluorescence lifetime of the 4I11/2 multiplet (1.54 μs). Therefore, most of the excited Er3+ ions in the 4I11/2 multiplet can be populated in the upper laser level 4I13/2 by nonradiative transition, thus higher operation efficiency of 1.55 μm laser can be expected in the Er:Yb:KGP crystal. In the other hand, the Er:Yb:KGP crystal has a longer fluorescence lifetime of 4I13/2 multiplet (6.32 ms) than those of the Er3+/Yb3+ co-doped borate crystals, in which efficient continuous-wave 1.55 μm lasers have been demonstrated. Hence, the Er:Yb:KGP crystal has larger energy storage capacity and would be a good candidate for realizing high energy 1.55 μm Q-switched pulse laser. Furthermore, it can also be seen that most of the spectroscopic properties of the Er:Yb:KGP crystal are comparable to those of the Er:Yb:phosphate glass, which is the only commercial 1.55 μm laser material at present, except the fluorescence quantum efficiency and energy transfer efficiency, which are mainly caused by the poor crystal optical quality and low Yb3+ concentration, respectively. Therefore, when the crystal growth technique is further optimized, the optical quality and doping concentration of the KGP crystal can be improved and then the spectroscopic properties of the Er:Yb:KGP crystal may be similar to those of the Er:Yb:phosphate glass. Combined with higher thermal performance of the crystalline material, it can be concluded that the Er:Yb:KGP crystal is a promising gain medium of 1.55 μm laser.
The Strategic Priority Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (XDB20000000); The Knowledge Innovation Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (KJCX2-EW-H03-01).
The authors wish to thank the assistance of spectra testing provided by Key Laboratory of Research on Chemistry and Physics of Optoelectronic Materials, CAS.
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