High peak power laser systems are vulnerable to performance degradation due to particulate contamination on optical surfaces. In this work, we show using model contaminant particles that their optical properties decisively determine the nature of the optical damage. Borosilicate particles with low intrinsic optical absorption undergo ablation initiating in their sub-surface, leading to brittle fragmentation, distributed plasma formation, material dispersal and ultimately can lead to micro-fractures in the substrate optical surface. In contrast, energy coupling into metallic particles is highly localized near the particle-substrate interface leading to the formation of a confined plasma and subsequent etching of the substrate surface, accompanied by particle ejection driven by the recoil momentum of the ablation plume. While the tendency to create fractured surface pitting from borosilicate is stochastic, the smooth ablation pits created by metal particles is deterministic, with pit depths scaling linearly with laser fluence. A simple model is employed which predicts ∼3x electric field intensity enhancement from surface-bound fragments. In addition, our results suggest that the amount of energy deposited in metal particles is at least twice that in transparent particles.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Atomic and Molecular Physics, and Optics