Ultrashort pulse induced nanostructures in transparent materials
Glass fascinates mankind since its first discovery about 30 thousand years ago. Besides the challenging conditions for fabricating glasses with homogeneous properties the technological prospects for precise machining were first developed in the last millennium. While core areas of glass processing were dominated by well-established mechanical techniques such as scribing, grinding, sawing and polishing the technological progress and ongoing miniaturization demanded alternative processing tools. Within the end of the 20th century the development of ultrashort pulse laser systems paved the way for precise and cost-efficient solutions for materials processing in key technologies such as computer chips, medical surgery or in the field of automotive. Even more, the short pulse duration represents the key to locally process transparent materials within the bulk to induce modifications with feature sizes smaller than the wavelength of light [1, 2]. When focusing ultrashort laser pulses in the bulk of glass nonlinear absorption leads to extreme non-equilibrium states within a confined volume mediating the localized deposition of the laser pulse energy. Fused silica turned out as versatile platform to study the laser-induced modifications. Typically three different kinds are distinguished. First, isotropic refractive index changes allow for inscribing waveguides [3, 4] that may serve to realize complex photonic networks [5, 6]. Second, a confined micro-explosion within the focal volume may leave a region devoid of any material [7, 8] that can be used for data storage  or microfluidic purposes . Finally, one of the key findings of laser materials processing is the local inscription of strong birefringence due to a sub-wavelength grating structure within an otherwise isotropic host material [11, 12].
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