Light intensity modulations caused by opaque obstacles (e.g., dust) on silica lenses in high-power lasers often enhance the potential for laser-induced damage. To study this effect, particles (10–250 µm) with various shapes were sputter deposited on the input surface and irradiated with a 3-ns laser beam at 355 nm. Although a clean silica surface damages at fluences above 15 J/cm2, a surface contaminated with particles can damage below 11.5 J/cm2. A pattern that conforms to the shape of the input surface particle is printed on the output surface. Repetitive illumination resulted in catastrophic drilling of the optic. The damage pattern correlated with an interference image of the particle before irradiation. The image shows that the incident beam undergoes phase (and amplitude) modulations after it passes around the particle. We modeled the experiments by calculating the light intensity distribution behind an obscuration by use of Fresnel diffraction theory. The comparison between calculated light intensity distribution and the output surface damage pattern showed good agreement. The model was then used to predict the increased damage vulnerability that results from intensity modulations as a function of particle size, shape, and lens thickness. The predictions provide the basis for optics cleanliness specifications on the National Ignition Facility to reduce the likelihood of optical damage.
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