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Phys Rev E Stat Nonlin Soft Matter Phys. 2009 May;79(5 Pt 2):056405. Epub 2009 May 26.

Tracking propagation of ultrashort intense laser pulses in gases via probing of ionization.

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Intense Laser Irradiation Laboratory, IPCF-Area della Ricerca CNR, Via Moruzzi, 1 56124 Pisa, Italy.


We use optical interferometry to study the propagation of femtosecond laser pulses in gases. We show the measurements of propagation in a nitrogen gas jet and we compare the results with propagation in He under the same irradiation conditions. We find that in the case of nitrogen, the detailed temporal structure of the laser pulse can be tracked and visualized by measuring the phase and the resulting electron-density map. A dramatically different behavior occurs in He gas jets, where no details of the temporal structure of the laser pulse are visible. These observations are explained in terms of the ionization dynamics of nitrogen compared to helium. These circumstances make N2 gas sensitive to variations in the electric field and, therefore, allow the laser-pulse temporal and spatial structures to be visualized in detail.

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