Cell surgery based on ultrashort laser pulses is a fast evolving field in biophotonics. Noninvasive intra cellular dissection at sub-diffraction resolution can be performed within vital cells with very little hazardous effects to adjacent cell organelles. Microscope objectives of high numerical aperture (NA) are used to focus ultrashort pulses to a small spot. Due to the high order of nonlinearity, plasma formation and thus material manipulation is limited to the very focus. Nonetheless nonlinear plasma formation is generally accompanied by a number of additional nonlinear effects like self-focusing and filamentation. These parasitic effects limit the achievable precision and reproducibility of applications. Experimentally it is known that the intensity of these effects decreases with increasing NA of the focusing optics, but the process of nonlinear plasma formation at high NA has not been studied numerically in detail yet. To simulate the interaction of ultrashort laser pulses with transparent materials at high NA a novel nonlinear Schrödinger equation is derived; the multiple rate equation (MRE) model is used to simultaneously calculate the generation of free electrons. Nonparaxial and vectorial effects are taken into account to accurately include tight focusing conditions. Parasitic effects are shown to get stronger and increasingly distortive for NA <0.9, using water as a model substance for biological soft tissue and cellular constituents.
© 2007 Optical Society of America
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