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Undergraduate Laser Laboratory at SJSU. Ken Wharton. SJSU Physics Department . 4 of 14 full-time faculty members with laser/optics research background Houses “Institute for Modern Optics” (contact [email protected] for more info) Located in the heart of Silicon Valley.

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Undergraduate Laser Laboratory at SJSU

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Undergraduate laser laboratory at sjsu l.jpg

Undergraduate Laser Laboratory at SJSU

Ken Wharton


Sjsu physics department l.jpg

SJSU Physics Department

  • 4 of 14 full-time faculty members with laser/optics research background

  • Houses “Institute for Modern Optics” (contact [email protected] for more info)

  • Located in the heart of Silicon Valley

Instead of a typical “Advanced Laboratory”, our department instead offers an optics laboratory and a laser laboratory for our upper-division majors.


Laser laboratory overview l.jpg

Laser Laboratory: Overview

  • 4 optical tables; 8 students/section

  • 4 hours/week (2 units)

  • No write-up time in class

The first few labs are identical for

all students.

Then the students rotate through two sets of four labs.


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Introductory “Experiments”

  • Labs 1 & 2 (same for all students):

    • Laser and Electrical Safety

    • Mounts/hardware (built from scratch each week)

    • Optics handling/cleaning

    • Beam pointing + centering (HeNe laser)

    • Power measurements (HeNe laser)

    • ND Filters/Attenuation (Only actual experiment)

    • Scientific Writing Techniques

Need 4 sets of everything in these labs. (Optical Tables, ND Filters, power meters, HeNe lasers, mirrors, hardware...)


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Primary Experiments

  • Align HeNe cavity; current vs. power (*)

  • Polarization Lab (/2, /4 plates, Pockels cell)

  • CCD Lab, Gaussian Beam Propagation

  • Photodetector response time (chopped HeNe)

  • He-Ne Beam Amplification / Saturation Intensity (*)

  • CO2 laser (homemade system) (*)

  • Argon-Ion laser (multi-line, diffraction grating expt.)

  • Interferometry (index of refraction of air)

Donated equipment includes CCD camera, optical tables, power supplies, HeNes, Optics, Hardware...


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HeNe Discharge Tube

1st experiment: Use reference HeNe to align mirrors,

optimize power output, plot discharge current vs. power.

2nd experiment:

Increasing input power lowers gain (from ~15% to ~5%)

allowing estimation of saturation intensity for HeNe.


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CO2 Laser Experiment

  • One mirror fixed; one mirror adjustable (students align with reference HeNe)

  • Maximum power ~ 500mW

  • Students try different output couplers

  • Beam size estimated from burn spot on paper

  • Students compute gain coefficient, efficiency


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Final Thoughts

  • Lab complements laser course

    • Usual reasons: Hands-on learning, etc...

    • The real world vs. 1st-order laser theory

      e.g. Gaussian Beam Lab, introduce M2≠1

    • Lab experience key for jobs in photonics

  • If interested in more info, please contact me:

    • Ken Wharton, [email protected]

Thanks: Sarma Lakkaraju, Kiumars Parvin, Ramen Bahuguna, Jose Garcia


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