We compared spectroscopic properties and resonantly (in-band) pumped laser performances of Er3+:YVO4 and Er3+:GdVO4 single crystals, at room and cryogenic temperatures. It was shown that these gain materials are very similar in absorption and emission spectra, associated with transitions between 4I15/2 and 4I13/2 manifolds of Er3+ ions. Both lasers demonstrated comparable performances in quasi continuous wave (QCW) operation at both temperatures. However, Er3+:GdVO4 material performed better in a continuous wave (CW) mode, under the higher thermal load.
©2012 Optical Society of America
Low quantum defect (QD), eye-safe laser operation of resonantly pumped laser materials based on Er-doped laser crystals and ceramics has drawn significant attention lately due to its potential for designing scalable high power laser systems. Among the most recently studied laser materials, Er-doped orthovanadate single crystals, Er3+:YVO4 and Er3+:GdVO4, were found to be the most efficient. Under resonant pumping (at 1528 and 1539 nm) they have demonstrated nearly QD-limited laser operation with slope efficiencies as high as 83 - 85% at cryogenic temperature and 54 - 58% at room temperature [1–5]. Both of these crystals have closely related physical properties. However, there is quite conflicting literature data about their comparative thermal properties relative to the more conventional YAG [6–8], see Table 1 . Taking into account that their reported spectroscopic features  are also somewhat different, there is a practical question as to which of these Er-doped orthovanadates is best suited for specific laser applications in terms of performance efficiency. The answer can be given via back to back comparison of their laser performances in identical experimental conditions. The comprehensive comparison for Er3+-doped YVO4 and GdVO4 single crystals with the 4I15/2 → 4I11/2 (~980-nm) excitation at room temperature was recently reported in . To the best of our knowledge, no direct comparison results are so far available for these crystals with the most efficient, resonant 4I15/2 → 4I13/2 pumping.
This paper presents the results of a comprehensive comparison of optical, thermal and spectroscopic properties and resonantly (in-band) pumped laser performances of Er3+:YVO4 and Er3+:GdVO4 single crystals at cryogenic and room temperatures.
2. Optical, thermal and spectroscopic properties of Er3+:YVO4 and Er3+:GdVO4 crystals
Table 1 presents a thorough collection of the optical and thermal properties of Er3+:YVO4 and Er3+:GdVO4 single crystals measured by numerous authors, including our own results. In general, one can see that there is enough of a similarity in most of those properties. However, there are also some differences. It can be seen that there is nearly a two-fold data spread when it comes to thermal conductivity measurements of the YVO4 crystal, while thermal conductivity measurements for the GdVO4 crystal are very consistent with each other. For both of them, thermal conductivity undergoes ~5-6-fold increase when the crystal is cooled from room temperature (RT) to liquid nitrogen temperature (LNT). Thermal expansion coefficient (CTE) measurements for both crystals obtained by different groups also show a noticeable data spread. All of them reveal considerable (more than four times) anisotropy of CTE in both Er3+:YVO4 and Er3+:GdVO4 single crystals (expansion along the optical c-axis versus that in the perpendicular direction). Unfortunately, to the best of our knowledge, there is either no or very few available data on CTE and temperature coefficients of refractive index, dn/dT, for both crystals at temperatures from 295 K to 77K.
Spectroscopic measurements were done on Er3+:GdVO4 samples with Er3+ ion concentration of 0.5 at.% and 0.7 at.% (ion number density, NEr = 6.05 x 1019 cm−3 and 8.47 x 1019 cm−3, respectively) and Er3+:YVO4 samples with Er3+ ion concentration of 0.5 at.% (NEr = 6.23 x 1019 cm−3). All crystals were grown by the Czochralski technique . All measurements pertain to the 4I13/2 ↔ 4I15/2 Er3+ transitions in the 1450 – 1650 nm wavelength range.
Absorption spectra associated with 4I13/2 → 4I15/2 transitions of Er3+ in GdVO4 and YVO4 crystals were measured in the temperature range from 8 K to 300 K using a Cary 6000i spectrophotometer (resolution 0.1 nm) with an InGaAs detector operating in the fixed-slit-width mode. Figures 1 (a, b, c, and d) indicate ground-state absorption spectra of the Er3+:GdVO4 and the Er3+:YVO4 for σ- (a and c) and π- (b and d) polarizations for temperatures of 77 K (a and b) and 300 K (c and d). The effective cross-sections were calculated from measured absorbances using the above ion number densities. It can be seen that most of the absorption lines of the Er3+:GdVO4 at 77 K in π-polarization are stronger than in σ-polarization, while for the Er3+:YVO4 - the opposite pattern prevails. A direct comparison of the absorption spectra at 77 K indicates that major absorption cross-sections are larger for the Er3+:YVO4 (with the exception of the very strong π-polarized band around 1503 nm in the Er3+:GdVO4), while the absorption lines of Er3+:GdVO4 are generally broader. At room temperature, cross-sections and line widths of both crystals are approximately equal.
The emission spectrum of the Er3+:GdVO4 crystal was obtained by illuminating the 0.5 at.% doped sample with 970-nm diode laser emission and by collecting the fluorescence light with the Optical Spectrum Analyzer [4,5]. Cross-sections were calculated using the standard Fuchtbauer-Landenburg method . Figures 2 show the σ-polarized (a and c) and the π-polarized (b and d) emission spectra of the Er3+:GdVO4 and Er3+:YVO4 measured at 77 K (a and b) and 300 K (c and d). One can see that the Er3+:GdVO4 has slightly larger π-polarized emission cross-sections in the vicinity of 1600 nm. In addition, the slightly shorter π-polarized emission wavelength (~1598 nm in the Er3+:GdVO4 vs ~1603 nm in the Er3+:YVO4) should provide a benefit of the lower QD operation.Based on the analysis of our spectroscopic data we produced two energy level diagrams for Er3+:YVO4 and Er3+:GdVO4 which are presented in Fig. 3 .
4. Laser experiments
Laser experiments were performed with the anti-reflection (AR) coated 0.7 at.% Er3+:GdVO4 and 0.5 at.% Er3+:YVO4 10 mm-long, single crystal slabs with the cross section of 3 mm x 7 mm. The Er3+:GdVO4 slab had the crystallographic c-axis aligned with the lateral 7 mm direction. The Er3+:YVO4 slab had the c-axis aligned with the longitudinal 10 mm direction, therefore only σ-polarized absorption and emission could be utilized in lasing. For laser experiments at cryogenic temperatures, slabs were mounted on a copper cold finger inside the boil-off liquid nitrogen cryostat with two AR coated fused silica windows (T > 99.9% at 1500-1650 nm). For RT laser experiments, the crystals were clamped between the water-cooled copper plates and conductively cooled from top and bottom to + 18° C.
Two different lasers, suitable for pumping into one of the major absorption bands of Er3+:GdVO4 or Er3+:YVO4 within the 1525 - 1540 nm range, were used in our experiments. One of them was a narrowband, single-mode (SM), continuous wave (CW) Er-fiber laser (IPG Photonics) at 1538.8 nm with the output bandwidth of ~0.3 nm (full width at half maximum, FWHM). This narrow bandwidth output is fully accommodated by the 1538.8 nm absorption line of both Er3+:GdVO4 and Er3+:YVO4 crystals. The unpolarized pump beam was focused into a laser slab by a spherical lens with the focal length of 100 mm. With the Er-fiber laser pump the excited volume inside the slab was nearly cylindrical along the entire slab length with the ~380 μm diameter (at 1/e2 intensity level).
In order to provide the most practical comparison, the second pump source was a commercial spectrally narrowed (~2 nm FWHM), fast and slow axis collimated (FAC-SAC), 13-bar InP laser diode stack (BrightLock® Stacked Array, QPC Lasers). It operated in a QCW regime with the operational duty cycle of 25% (tpulse = 25 ms, F = 10 Hz). The incident pump beam was utilized as π-polarized for Er:GdVO4 and σ-polarized for Er:YVO4. The spectral maximum of the diode stack was adjusted to the peak of the ~1529 nm absorption band by varying the temperature of the cooling water flow. In order to achieve nearly equal divergence of the pump beam in the vertical and horizontal directions, an additional 4x cylindrical telescope, formed by the negative and positive lenses, was inserted after the diode bar stack. A variable attenuator, comprising of a combination of a polarizing cube and a half-wave plate, was used to vary the pump power without changing the diode current. The collimated pump beam was focused into the crystal by a spherical lens with a focal length of 75 mm through a flat dichroic mirror (HT T > 90% at 1520 −1540 nm, HR R > 99.5% at 1580-1650 nm). The excited volume inside the slab had a conical shape with the 1/e2 diameter varying from ~960 μm in the center to ~1200 μm at the slab ends. The laser cavity was formed by the HR dichroic mirror and the plano-concave output coupler with a radius of curvature RCC = 250 mm and reflectivities between 85% and 70%. The laser cavity lengths (LCAV) were ~100 mm and ~80 mm for the cases of pumping by the Er-fiber laser and the diode bar stack, respectively. A simplified experimental setup of the cryogenically cooled Er3+-doped YVO4 (GdVO4) laser is shown in Fig. 4 .
5. Comparative performances of Er3+:YVO4 and Er3+:GdVO4 lasers at 77 K
The CW and QCW (F = 10 Hz, tpulse = 25 ms) performances at 77 K of the Er3+:GdVO4 laser resonantly pumped into the 1538.8 nm absorption line by a CW Er-fiber laser are shown in Figs. 5 (a–d) . The fraction of the absorbed pump power varied in both Er3+:GdVO4 and Er3+:YVO4 crystals due to saturation effects  from ~0.85, right above the laser threshold, to ~0.6 - 0.7 at the maximum incident pump power.
We observed that both cryogenically cooled Er3+:GdVO4 and Er3+:YVO4 lasers are capable of performing with very high slope efficiency with respect to the absorbed pump: 83% and 85% for Er3+:GdVO4 and Er3+:YVO4 respectively, see Fig. 5a and Fig. 6a . While Er3+:YVO4 operated in σ-polarization at 1593.5 nm, with 0.7 nm bandwidth at the maximum pump power, the Er3+:GdVO4 laser emitted at 1598.5 nm in π-polarization, with 0.45 nm bandwidth. As was expected, the characteristics of both lasers were very similar if they were compared in the same operating mode (CW or QCW).
In the meantime, if one compares lasers (either Er3+:GdVO4 or Er3+:YVO4) in the CW versus the QCW regime (with the same laser cavity parameters), it can be concluded that the effective thermal resistivity of the Er3+:GdVO4 crystal is somewhat lower. Figure 6, where comparative performances of both lasers are presented, shows that while the efficiency of the Er3+:YVO4 laser dropped noticeably in switching from QCW to CW operation, the efficiency of the Er3+:GdVO4 laser changed only slightly. In an attempt to analyze this phenomenon, we observed that with the same amount of absorbed pump power, the temperature of the Er3+:YVO4 was increasing much faster than that of the Er3+:GdVO4, reaching low 90’s K at full pump power for the former versus low 80’s K for the latter. This, seemingly minor, temperature difference is very critical for the low-QD operation with the terminal laser level positioned close to the bottom of the ground state multiplet. As a result, a slight increase in the ground state absorption affects the efficiency of the Er3+:YVO4 laser much more than that of the Er3+:GdVO4 laser. The observed difference in the experimental data is based on the temperature excursion as well as on a discernible difference in the ground state Stark-split level positioning between the two materials, see Fig. 3.
We also compared performances of Er3+:YVO4 and Er3+:GdVO4 lasers under the resonant pumping by a spectrally narrowed laser diode bar stack at 1529.3 nm, see Fig. 7 . In this pumping arrangement, both lasers operated with similar slope efficiencies.
It should be noted that slope efficiencies of both orthovanadate lasers, pumped by a laser diode bar stack, are lower than in the case of fiber laser pumping despite the fact that the absorbed fraction of the pump power in both cases is nearly the same. The reason for this difference is due to a much poorer spatial overlap of the pumped volume in the crystal with the laser cavity mode when pumping by the laser diode bar stack.
6. Comparative performances of Er3+:YVO4 and Er3+:GdVO4 lasers at 300K
RT experiments with both lasers were carried out with the same pump sources. The diode bar stack was tuned into 1529 nm absorption bands (see Figs. 1, c and d). Again, Er3+:GdVO4 was pumped in a π-polarized configuration, while Er3+:YVO4 crystal was pumped in the σ-polarized one.
Without a cryostat, RT experiments allowed a very short laser cavity (LCAV = 40 mm), but required a different curvature of the output coupler (RCC = 250 mm) to achieve an optimal spatial pump-laser mode overlap with the TEM00 mode diameter of ~470 μm. Figure 8a depicts the output power of the Er3+:GdVO4 and Er3+:YVO4 lasers pumped by a laser diode bar stack versus the absorbed pump power for the 10% output coupling. As in the previous case, both lasers showed approximately equal slope efficiencies, although fractions of the absorbed pump were quite different: 50-40% for Er3+:GdVO4 and 30-25% for Er3+:YVO4 depending on the incident pump power. Such a fraction is noticeably lower at RT than that measured at LNT.
Figure 8b shows the result of the experiments with pumping by a narrow linewidth (~0.3 nm FWHM) Er-fiber laser operating in the CW regime. Compared with the diode bar stack, the fiber laser provides a much better spatial pump-laser mode overlap. This mode matching is critical for the efficient Er-doped laser operation at RT. The pump beam was focused into the crystal by a spherical lens with focal length of 100 mm. The short laser cavity (LCAV = 40 mm) with plano-concave output coupler (RCC = 100 mm) defined the TEM00 mode waste diameter of ~340 μm. The best results were obtained with the output coupler reflectivity of ~95%. Mention should be made that no noticeable heating of the crystals was measured up to ~20 W of the incident pump power. As can be seen, both slope efficiencies measured versus the absorbed pump were nearly the same for both crystals.
We compared thermal and spectroscopic properties and resonantly pumped laser performances of Er3+:YVO4 and Er3+:GdVO4 single crystals, at room and cryogenic temperatures. Both lasers demonstrated a low-QD operation with slope efficiencies well in excess of 80%. The absorption cross-sections in σ-polarization are slightly stronger for Er3+:YVO4, while Er:GdVO4 absorbs stronger in π-polarization. The maximum value of the emission cross-section at LNT (1598 nm, π-polarization) is higher for Er3+:GdVO4. Despite these small differences in absorption and emission cross-sections, both crystals demonstrated very similar laser performances at RT and LNT. We observed that the output characteristics of cryogenic Er3+:GdVO4 laser are less sensitive to the thermal loading, which is an indirect indication of higher thermal conductivity (along the c-axis) of the Er3+:GdVO4 material, though it is not as obvious from the data available in the literature.
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