Advances in intense femtosecond laser filamentation in air

S. L. Chin*, T. J. Wang, C. Marceau, J. Wu, J. S. Liu, O. Kosareva, N. Panov, Y. P. Chen, J. F. Daigle, S. Yuan, A. Azarm, W. W. Liu, T. Seideman, H. P. Zeng, M. Richardson, R. Li, Z. Z. Xu

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

180 Scopus citations


This is a review of some recent development in femtosecond filamentation science with emphasis on our collective work. Previously reviewed work in the field will not be discussed. We thus start with a very brief description of the fundamental physics of single filamentation of powerful femtosecond laser pulses in air. Intensity clamping is emphasized. One consequence is that the peak intensity inside one or more filaments would not increase significantly even if one focuses the pulse at very high peak power even up to the peta-watt level. Another is that the clamped intensity is independent of pressure. One interesting outcome of the high intensity inside a filament is filament fusion which comes from the nonlinear change of index of refraction inside the filament leading to cross beam focusing. Because of the high intensity inside the filament, one can envisage nonlinear phenomena taking place inside a filament such as a new type of Raman red shift and the generation of very broad band supercontinuum into the infrared through four-wave-mixing. This is what we call by filamentation nonlinear optics. It includes also terahertz generation from inside the filament. The latter is discussed separately because of its special importance to those working in the field of safety and security in recent years. When the filamenting pulse is linearly polarized, the isotropic nature of air becomes birefringent both electronically (instantaneous) and through molecular wave packet rotation and revival (delayed). Such birefringence is discussed in detailed. Because, in principle, a filament can be projected to a long distance in air, applications to pollution measurement as well as other atmospheric science could be earned out. We call this filamentation atmospheric science. Thus, the following subjects are discussed briefly, namely, lightning control, rain making, remote measurement of electric field, microwave guidance and remote sensing of pollutants. A discussion on the higher order Kerr effect on the physics of filamentation is also given. This is a new hot subject of current debate. This review ends on giving our view of the prospect of progress of this field of filamentation in the future. We believe it hinges upon the development of the laser technology based upon the physical understanding of filamentation and on the reduction in price of the laser system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-53
Number of pages53
JournalLaser Physics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atomic and Molecular Physics, and Optics
  • Instrumentation
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering


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