Laser ablation is widely used in micromachining, manufacturing, thin-film formation, and bioengineering applications. During laser ablation the removal of material and quality of the features depend strongly on the optical breakdown region induced by the laser irradiance. The recent advent of amplified ultrafast lasers with pulse durations of less than 1 ps has generated considerable interest because of the ability of the lasers to process virtually all materials with high precision and minimal thermal damage. With ultrashort pulse widths, however, traditional breakdown models no longer accurately capture the laser–material interaction that leads to breakdown. A femtosecond breakdown model for dielectric solids and liquids is presented that characterizes the pulse behavior and predicts the time- and position-dependent breakdown region. The model includes the pulse propagation and small spatial extent of ultrashort laser pulses. Model results are presented and compared with classical breakdown models for 1-ns, 1-ps, and 150-fs pulses. The results show that the revised model is able to model breakdown accurately in the focal region for pulse durations of less than 10 ps. The model can also be of use in estimating the time- and position-resolved electron density in the interaction volume, the breakdown threshold of the material, shielding effects, and temperature distributions during ultrafast processing.
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