Mechanically polished fused silica surfaces were heated with continuous-wave CO2 laser radiation. Laser-damage thresholds of the surfaces were measured with 1064-nm 9-nsec pulses focused to small spots and with large-spot, 1064-nm, 1-nsec irradiation. A sharp transition from laser-damage-prone to highly laser-damage-resistant took place over a small range in CO2 laser power. The transition to high damage resistance occurred at a silica surface temperature where material softening began to take place as evidenced by the onset of residual strain in the CO2 laser-processed part. The small-spot damage measurements show that some CO2 laser-treated surfaces have a local damage threshold as high as the bulk damage threshold of SiO2. On some CO2 laser-treated surfaces, large-spot damage thresholds were increased by a factor of 3–4 over thresholds of the original mechanically polished surface. These treated parts show no obvious change in surface appearance as seen in bright-field, Nomarski, or total internal reflection microscopy. They also show little change in transmissive figure. Further, antireflection films deposited on CO2 laser-treated surfaces have thresholds greater than the thresholds of antireflection films on mechanically polished surfaces.
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