A saturable-absorber-based technique for spatial filtering of high-average-power laser beams is described. For a focused, radially symmetric beam having its highest intensity at the center, this saturable absorber behaves like a soft aperture with gradually increasing attenuation toward the beam edges, thus selectively transmitting the low divergence components that are confined close to the central axis of the propagating laser beam. This technique has been successfully used to reduce the divergence of a high-power, high-repetition-rate, tunable, narrowband, pulsed dye laser. Our results demonstrate how a judicious choice of operating parameters allows spatial filtering to be achieved with the introduction of a minimum absorption loss of the laser beam in the saturable absorber. Following a time-dependent analysis of a rate equation model describing the propagation and interaction of the laser beam with the saturable absorber, we have also obtained theoretical estimates for the extent of spatial filtering. Our theoretical estimates have been found to be in good agreement with our experimental observations.
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