Electro-Optic Q-switch (Pockel cell)

  • Update:Mar 20, 2017
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We offer the industry standard QX series economical IMPACT cells BBO-ba>sed LightGate and large-aperture TX Pockels cell lines. High-speed electronic drivers properly matched to the cell produce the best results.

Product Introduction

A Pockels cell alters the polarization state of light passing through it when an applied voltage induces birefringence changes in an electro-optic crystal such as KD*P and BBO. When used in conjunction with polarizers, these cells can function as optical switches, or laser Q-switches. Frequently, Q-switches are employed in laser cavities for the purpose of shortening the output pulse, resulting in a light beam with enhanced peak intensity. In order to provide the device best suited to your purpose, we offer the industry standard QX series, economical IMPACT cells, BBO-based LightGate, and large-aperture TX Pockels cell lines. High-speed electronic drivers properly matched to the cell produce the best results for short pulse applications.

The Electro-Optic Effect

The linear electro-optic effect, also known as the Pockels effect, describes the variation of the refractive index of an optical medium under the influence of an external electrical field. In this case certain crystals become birefringent in the direction of the optical axis which is isotropic without an applied voltage.

When linearly polarized light propagates along the direction of the optical axis of the crystal, its state of polarization remains unchanged as long as no voltage is applied. When a voltage is applied, the light exits the crystal in a state of polarization which is in general elliptical.

In this way phase plates can be realized in analogy to conventional polarization optics. Phase plates introduce a phase shift between the ordinary and the extraordinary beam. Unlike conventional optics, the magnitude of the phase shift can be adjusted with an externally applied voltage and a λ/4 or λ/2 retardation can be achieved at a given wavelength. This presupposes that the plane of polarization of the incident light bisects the right angle between the axes which have been electrically induced. In the longitudinal Pockels effect the direction of the light beam is parallel to the direction of the electric field. In the transverse Pockels cell they are perpendicular to each other. The most common application of the Pockels cell is the switching of the quality factor of a laser cavity.


Laser activity begins when the threshold condition is met: the optical amplification for one round trip in the laser resonator is greater than the losses (output coupling, diffraction, absorption, scattering). The laser continues emitting until either the stored energy is exhausted, or the input from the pump source stops. Only a fraction of the storage capacity is effectively used in the operating mode. If it were possible to block the laser action long enough to store a maximum energy, then this energy could be released in a very short time period.

A method to accomplish this is called Q-switching. The resonator quality, which represents a measure of the losses in the resonator, is kept low until the maximum energy is stored. A rapid increase of the resonator quality then takes the laser high above threshold, and the stored energy can be released in a very short time. The resonator quality can be controlled as a function of time in a number of ways. In particular, deep modulation of the resonator quality is possible with components that influence the state of polarization of the light. Rotating the polarization plane of linearly polarized light by 90°, the light can be guided out of the laser at a polarizer. The modulation depth, apart from the homogeneity of the 90° rotation, is only determined by the degree of extinction of the polarizer.

The linear electro-optical (Pockels) effect plays a predominant role besides the linear magneto-optical (Faraday) and the quadratic electro-optical (Kerr) effect. Typical electro-optic Q-switches operate in a so called λ/4 mode.

a) Off Q-Switching

Light emitted by the laser rod (1) is linearly polarized by the polarizer (2). If a λ/4 voltage is applied to the Pockels cell (3), then on exit, the light is circularly polarized. After reflection from the resonator mirror (4) and a further passage through the Pockels cell, the light is once again polarized, but the plane of polarization has been rotated by 90°. The light is deflected out of the resonator at the polarizer, but the resonator quality is low and the laser does not start to oscillate. At the moment the maximum storage capacity of the active medium has been reached, the voltage of the Pockels cell is turned off very rapidly; the resonator quality increases immediately and a very short laser pulse is emitted. The use of a polarizer can be omitted for active materials which show polarization dependent amplification (eg. Nd:YalO3, Alexandrite, Ruby, etc.).

b) On Q-Switching

Unlike off Q-switching, a λ/4 plate (6) is used between the Pockels cell (3) and the resonator mirror (4). If no voltage is applied to the Pockels cell the laser resonator is blocked: no laser action takes place. A voltage pulse opens the resonator and permits the emission of laser light.

Pulse Picking

Typically Femto-Second-Lasers emit pulses with a repetition rate of several 10MHz. However many applications like regenerative amplifying require slower repetition rates. Here a Pockels cell can be used as an optical switch: by applying ultra fast and precisely timed λ/2-voltage pulses on the Pockels cell, the polarization of the Laser light can be controlled pulse wise. Thus, combined with a polarizer the Pockels cell works as an optical gate.

Selection Criteria

The selection of the correct Q-switch for a given application is determined by the excitation of the laser; the required pulse parameters, the switching voltage, the switching speed of the Pockels cell, the wavelength, polarization state and degree of coherence of the light.

Type of Excitation

Basically, both off and on Q-switching are equivalent in physical terms for both cw and for pulse pumped lasers. On Q-switching is, however, recommended in cw operation because a high voltage pulse and not a rapid high voltage switch-off is necessary to generate a laser pulse. This method also extends the life time of the cell. Over a long period of time, the continuous application of a high voltage would lead to electrochemical degradation effects in the KD*P crystal. We advice the use of an on Q-switching driver. Off Q-switching is more advantageous for lasers stimulated with flash lamps because the λ/4 plate is not required. In order to prevent the electrochemical degradation of the KD*P crystal in the off Q-switching mode we recommend a trigger scheme in which the high voltage is turned off between the flashlamp pulses and turned on to close the laser cavity before the onset of the pump pulse. The cell CPC and SPC series are recommended for diode pumped solid state lasers. These cells are ultra compact and will operate in a short length resonator: this is necessary to achieve very short laser pulses.

Pulse Parameters

The series LM n, LM n IM, and LM n SG cells are recommended for lasers with a power density of up to 500MW/cm². The LM n and LM n SG cells are used for lasers with very high amplification. The SG cells with sol-gel technology have the same transmission as the immersion cells and both are typically used when a higher transmission is required. At high pulse energies LMx cells are preferred.

Brewster Pockels cells are recommended for lasers with low amplification, such as Alexandrite lasers. The passive resonator losses are minimal due to a high transmission of 99%.

The CPC and SPC series cells are suitable for small, compact lasers and especially for OEM applications. They are available as dry cells and immersion cells.

The level of deuterium content in an electro-optic crystal influences the spectral position of the infrared edge. The higher the deuterium level the further the absorption edge is shifted into the infrared spectral region: for Nd:YAG at 1064nm, the laser absorption decreases. Crystals, which are deuterated to >98%, are available for lasers with a high repetition rate or a high average output power.

Pockels Cell Switching Voltage

Using double Pockels cells can half the switching voltage. This is achieved by switching two crystals electrically in parallel and optically in series. The damage threshold is very high and the cells are mainly used outside the resonator.

Electro Optic Material

The selection of the electro-optic material depends on its transmission range. Further on the Laser parameters and the application as well have to be taken into account.

For wavelengths from 0.25μm to 1.1μm, longitudinal Pockels cells made of KD*P and a deuterium content of 95% should be considered. If the deuterium content is higher the absorption edge of the material is shifted further into the infrared. KD*P crystal cells with a deuterium content >98% can be used up to 1.3μm.

KD*P can be grown with high optical uniformity and is therefore recommended for large apertures. The spectral window of BBO also ranges from 0.25μm to 1.3μm, but besides BBO also provides a low dielectric constant and a high damage threshold. Therefore BBO is recommended for Lasers with high repetition rate and high average powers. RTP, with an optical bandwidth from 0.5μm up to 1.5μm combines low switching voltage and high laser induced damage threshold. Together with its relative insensitivity for Piezo effects RTP is best suited for precise switching in high repetition rate lasers with super fast voltage drivers.

For wavelengths from 1.5μm up to 3μm we recommend LiNbO3.

Suppression of Piezo Effects

Like any other insulating material electro optical crystals show Piezo effects when high voltage is applied. The extend of the Piezo ringing depends on the electro optic material and usually its effect on the extinction ratio is negligible when used for Q-switching. However for pulse picking applications, which require highly precise switching behaviour, we offer specially Piezo damped Pockels cells which suppress these ringing effects efficiently.

State of Polarization

The MIQS and CIQS series cells are supplied with an integrated polarizer: the alignment of the Pockels cell relative to the polarizer thus becomes unnecessary. The rotational position of the cell relative to the resonator axis can be chosen at will. However, should the polarization state of the light in the resonator be determined by other components, such as anisotropic amplification of the laser crystal or Brewster surfaces of the laser rod, then the rotational position of the cell will be determined by these factors. Thin film polarizers are used and the substrate is mounted at the Brewster angle. A parallel beam displacement of 1mm results from this configuration and can be compensated by adjusting the resonator.

1. IMPACT Series EO Q-switches

From the world leader in nonlinear materials and electro-optic devices comes the ideal Pockels cell for OEM applications, the IMPACT. Once again, we set the industry standard - and at an exceptional price.

The IMPACT employs the finest strain-free, highly deuterated KD*P available. Ceramic apertures ensure robust performance in demanding applications. Ultra-high-damage threshold Sol Gel and dielectric AR coatings are offered for a variety of laser wavelengths. The standard pin-type connectors (superior for high-voltage applications) provide quick connections and simplified design and assembly. Conventional threaded connectors are available as an option.


CCI Quality - economically priced Exceptional value
Finest strain-free KD*P High contrast ratioHigh damage thresholdLow 1/2 wave voltage
Space efficient Ideal for compact lasers
Ceramic apertures Clean and highly damage-resistant
High contrast ratio Exceptional hold-off
Quick electrical connectors Efficient/reliable installation
Ultra-flat crystals Excellent beam propagation

Typical Specification

Electro-optical @ 1064nm
1/4 Wave  Voltage: 3.3 kV
Transmitted Wave Front Error : <1/8 Wave
Capacitance: 6 pF
Sol Gel Damage Threshold @ 1064nm, 10ns pulse: 40J/cm2
Housing Dimensions IMPACT 8 IMPACT 10 IMPACT 13
Aperture 8 mm 10 mm 13 mm
Length 25 mm 39 mm 45 mm
Diameter 19 mm 25.35 mm 25.35 mm

2. QX Series EO Q-switches

The QX series sets the standard for KD*P electro-optic Q-switches. These devices provide reliable, stable performance for a diverse range of laser applications.

We offer a unique rebuild program that extends the QX lifetime. All rebuilt units are upgraded with the latest product improvements and are returned with a new one-year warranty.

The standard configuration employs a broad band, high damage threshold Sol Gel AR coating for improved durability and performance. The QX series is also available with index matching fluid and a choice of end caps. All units are tested for optic and electric function and are supplied with a QA inspection report.

Typical Specification 99% KD*P QX1020 QX1320 QX1630 QX2035
Hard aperture diameter 9.25 mm 12.3 mm 15.1 mm 19.5 mm
Single Pass Insertion Loss <1.4% <1.4% <1.8% <2.0%
(Cross polarizers) 5000:1 4000:1 3500:1 3000:1
(Parallel polarizers) 2500:1 1500:1 1800:1 1600:1
DC Quarter wave voltage @1064nm 3.2 kV 3.5 kV 3.3 kV 3.5 kV
Single Pass Distortion @ 633nm <λ/8 <λ/8 <λ/8 <λ/8
Capacitance @ 1 kHz 6pF 9pF 9pF 13pF
10-90% Rise time (50Ω line) 0.8 ns 1.1 ns 1.1 ns 1.5 ns

3. LiNbO3 Pockels Cells

Please state the applied wavelength when ordering.

Product ClearAperture(mm) Transmissiontypical (%) Extinction ratio (voltage-free) λ/4 voltage
SLM 7 IR1) 7,45 x 7,45 98 > 100:1 3 kV
SLM 9 IR1) 9 x 9 98 > 100:1 3 kV
SBPZ 5 IR1) 5 x 5 99 > 100:1 3 kV
SBPZ 5 IR2) 5 x 5 99 > 100:1 3 kV
  1. At 2μm wavelength
  2. At 3μm wavelength

4. BBO Pockels Cell

1) LightGate Series BBO Pockels Cell

2) SBB Series BBO Pockels Cells

Please state the applied wavelength when ordering.

ICRVCR >2000:1 >500:1
Apertures 3.25mm, 4mm, 5.5mm & 7mm
Spectral range of operation 3-12μm (must specify single wavelength of operation)
Single Pass Optical Transmission >98%
DC quarter-wave Voltage Capacitance 2.8KV, 3.4KV, 4.4KV & 5.4KV 4pF (all)
Transmitted Wavefront Error < λ/6
Product Number Wavelength (nm) 1) ClearAperture (mm) Transmission typical (%) Extinction ratio(voltage-free) λ/4 voltage2) Capacity(pF)
SBBPC 3 1064 Ø 2.8 98 > 1000:1 3.6 kV 4
SBBPC 4 1064 Ø 3.6 98 > 1000:1 4.8 kV 4
SBBPC 5 1064 Ø 4.6 98 > 1000:1 6.0 kV 4

1) other wavelength available upon request.     

2) DC at 1064nm

3) DBBPC 4 Pockels Cell at 355nm.

5. IRX Series CdTe Pockels Cell

Initially designed to address the Q-switched CO2 laser market at 10.6μm, the cadmium telluride - based IRX Q-switch may be configured to operate from 3-12μm. Its' high electro-optic coefficient and non-hygroscopic nature makes CdTe well-suited for this purpose. Through more than 30 years of electro-optic device design experience, we provide IRX Pockels cells with application-specific AR coatings or Brewster-cut ends, in apertures ranging from 3mm-10mm. The IRX Pockels cells are able to address applications beyond the spectral range of traditional oxide Pockels cells.

ICR >500:1 @ 10.6μm
Apertures 3mm, 5mm, 7mm & 4 x 10mm*
Spectral range of operation 3-12μm (must specify single wavelength of operation)
Optical transmission >98% at 10.6μm (other wavelengths available)
DC half-wave Voltage(for nominal 5mm aperture x 50mm length) ~ 5kV** @10.6μm

* Custom aperture sizes available

** Voltage is a function of electrode spacing and crystal length and will vary with application. Voltage shown is for the 4x10mm configuration.

*** AO Q-switches operating at 10.6um (CO2 laser) available.

6. RTP Electro-optic Q-Switch

The Q-Switch is built using 2 RTP (Rubidium Titanyl Phosphate) elements in a temperature compensating design. The unique properties of RTP, including high electrical resistivity (~1012 Ω-cm) and a high damage threshold, result in a Q-switch with excellent properties.