We present a detailed study of soliton compression of ultrashort pulses based on phase-mismatched second-harmonic generation (SHG) (i.e., the cascaded quadratic nonlinearity) in bulk quadratic nonlinear media. The single-cycle propagation equations in the temporal domain including higher-order nonlinear terms are presented. The balance between the quadratic (SHG) and the cubic (Kerr) nonlinearity plays a crucial role; we define an effective soliton number—related to the difference between the SHG and the Kerr soliton numbers—and show that it has to be larger than unity for successful pulse compression to take place. This requires that the phase mismatch be below a critical level, which is high in a material where the quadratic nonlinearity dominates over the cubic Kerr nonlinearity. Through extensive numerical simulations we find dimensionless scaling laws, expressed through the effective soliton number, that control the behavior of the compressed pulses. These laws hold in the stationary regime, in which group-velocity mismatch effects are small, and they are similar to the ones observed for fiber soliton compressors. The numerical simulations indicate that clean compressed pulses below two optical cycles can be achieved in a β-barium borate crystal at appropriate wavelengths, even for picosecond input pulses.
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