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Saturable absorption is a property of materials where the absorption of light decreases with increasing light intensity. Most materials show some saturable absorption, but often only at very high optical intensities (close to the optical damage). At sufficiently high incident light intensity, atoms in the ground state of a saturable absorber material become excited into an upper energy state at such a rate that there is insufficient time for them to decay back to the ground state before the ground state becomes depleted, and the absorption subsequently saturates. Saturable absorbers are useful in laser cavities. The key parameters for a saturable absorber are its wavelength range (where it absorbs), its dynamic response (how fast it recovers), and its saturation intensity and fluence (at what intensity or pulse energy it saturates). They are commonly used for passive Q-switching.
Phenomenology of saturable absorption
Within the simple model of saturated absorption, the relaxation rate of excitations does not depend on the intensity.
Then, for the continuous-wave (cw) operation, the absorption rate (or simply absorption) is determined by intensity :
where is linear absorption, and
is saturation intensity.
These parameters are related with the concentration of the active centers in the medium,
the effective cross-sections and the lifetime of the excitations.
Saturation fluence is one of the factors that determine threshold in the gain media and limits the storage of energy in a pulsed disk laser.
Mechanisms and examples of saturable absorption
Absorption saturation, which results in decreased absorption at high incident light intensity, competes with other mechanisms (for example, increase in temperature, formation of color centers, etc.), which result in increased absorption.
In particular, saturable absorption is only one of several mechanisms that produce self-pulsation in lasers, especially in semiconductor lasers.
One atom thick layer of carbon, graphene, can be seen with the naked eye because it absorbs approximately 2.3% of white light, which is ? times fine-structure constant. The saturable absorption response of graphene is wavelength independent from UV to IR, mid-IR and even to THz frequencies. In rolled-up graphene sheets (carbon nanotubes), saturable absorption is dependent on diameter and chirality.
Microwave and Terahertz saturable absorption
Saturable absorption can even take place at the Microwave and Terahertz band (corresponding to a wavelength from 30 ?m to 300 ?m). Some materials, for example graphene, with very weak energy band gap (several meV), could absorb photons at Microwave and Terahertz band due to its interband absorption. In one report, microwave absorbance of graphene always decreases with increasing the power and reaches at a constant level for power larger than a threshold value. The microwave saturable absorption in graphene is almost independent of the incident frequency, which demonstrates that graphene may have important applications in graphene microwave photonics devices such as: microwave saturable absorber, modulator, polarizer, microwave signal processing, broad-band wireless access networks, sensor networks, radar, satellite communications, and so on 
Saturable X-ray absorption
Saturable absorption has been demonstrated for X-rays. In one study, a thin 50 nanometres (2.0×10-6 in) foil of aluminium was irradiated with soft X-raylaser radiation (wavelength 13.5 nanometres (5.3×10-7 in)). The short laser pulse knocked out core L-shell electrons without breaking the crystalline structure of the metal, making it transparent to soft X-rays of the same wavelength for about 40 femtoseconds.
^T. Hasan; Z. Sun; F. Wang; F. Bonaccorso; P. H. Tan; A. G. Rozhin; A. C. Ferrari (2009). "Nanotube-Polymer Composites for Ultrafast Photonics". Advanced Materials. 21 (38-39): 3874-3899. doi:10.1002/adma.200901122.