Categories: Basic Science


Pump-probe spectroscopy is a powerful experimental technique used in physics and chemistry to study ultrafast processes. Its basic principle revolves around the controlled interaction of two precisely timed laser pulses with a material. Here’s how it works:

Pump Pulse

   – The first laser pulse, known as the “pump” pulse, is a high-intensity and very short-duration pulse.

   – This pulse provides a burst of energy to the sample material. It can excite electrons, cause structural changes, or initiate a specific process within the material.

Time Delay

   – After the pump pulse, there is a controllable time delay before the arrival of the second laser pulse. This time delay can be adjusted with extreme precision.

Probe Pulse

   – The second laser pulse, called the “probe” pulse, is also short in duration but less intense than the pump pulse.

   – It’s used to probe the state of the material after it has been excited by the pump pulse.


   – The probe pulse interacts with the excited material, and the resulting response is measured. This response could be changes in absorption, emission, reflectance, or other properties depending on the specific experiment.

Time-Resolved Observation

   – By varying the time delay between the pump and probe pulses, scientists can effectively capture snapshots of the material’s state at different points in time after the initial excitation. This allows them to observe ultrafast processes that occur on timescales as short as femtoseconds.

The information obtained from a pump-probe experiment provides insights into the dynamics of the processes under investigation, including electronic transitions, chemical reactions, phase changes, and more.

In pump-probe spectroscopy, the duration of the short pulses used can vary widely depending on the specific experiment and the type of laser system being employed. However, the typical durations of short pulses in pump-probe experiments are of the order of femtoseconds (10^-15 seconds) to picoseconds (10^-12 seconds).

Ultrafast lasers capable of producing pulses in this range are essential for capturing and studying extremely rapid processes in materials. These short pulse durations allow researchers to investigate phenomena such as electronic transitions, molecular vibrations, and chemical reactions that occur on ultrafast timescales. Keep in mind that the exact pulse duration can be tailored based on the specific requirements of the experiment and the characteristics of the target material.

Generating a short pulse often involves using a waveform that is a sum of multiple harmonics. This is because a short pulse in the time domain corresponds to a broad frequency spectrum in the frequency domain, according to the theory Fourier transform.

Here’s why this happens:

In signal processing, there’s a fundamental concept called time-frequency duality. This means that a narrow pulse in the time domain corresponds to a wide spectrum of frequencies in the frequency domain.

The Fourier transform is a mathematical tool that allows us to convert a signal from the time domain to the frequency domain (and vice versa). When you have a sharp transition in the time domain (like a short pulse), it means that you have a broad range of frequencies present.

When you generate a pulse using a sinusoidal wave generator, it’s actually composed of a fundamental frequency and its harmonics. These harmonics are integer multiples of the fundamental frequency. The more harmonics you have, the sharper and shorter the pulse you can create.

The superposition principle states that when multiple waves are present in a system, the resulting wave is the sum of the individual waves. This means that when you add up many harmonics together, you can create a pulse with a very sharp rise and fall time.

By combining many harmonics together, you can synthesize a signal that has a very sharp transition in time, creating a short pulse. This is a fundamental concept in areas like signal processing, telecommunications, and pulse shaping for various applications like radar, telecommunications, and laser systems.

Nonlinear optical processes refer to interactions between light and matter in which the response of the material is not directly proportional to the intensity of the incoming light. This means that as the intensity of light increases, the material’s response becomes more complex and can involve effects such as frequency mixing, phase modulation, and generation of new frequencies.

Here are a few examples of nonlinear optical processes:

In SHG, two photons of the same frequency combine within a nonlinear crystal to generate a single photon with twice the frequency. This effectively doubles the frequency of the original light.

Similar to SHG,  three photons combine to generate a single photon with three times the frequency.

In FWM, four photons interact within a nonlinear medium to produce two new photons. This can lead to the generation of new frequencies.

OPO involves a crystal that generates two photons of different frequencies from a single photon. This allows for the creation of tunable, coherent light sources.

In SPM, the phase of a light wave changes due to its own intensity. This can lead to the broadening of a light pulse spectrum.

XPM occurs when one light wave affects the phase of another, leading to changes in the second wave’s characteristics.

This process involves the absorption of photons that leads to a change in the material’s state or properties.

SRS involves the exchange of energy between photons in a material, leading to a frequency shift.

These processes have important applications in fields such as telecommunications, laser technology, spectroscopy, and quantum optics. They enable the generation of new wavelengths, frequency conversion, and various types of signal processing in optical systems.

A laser operates on the principle of stimulated emission, which is a fundamentally linear process. In stimulated emission, an incoming photon interacts with an excited atom or molecule, causing it to emit a second photon with the same frequency, direction, phase, and polarization as the incoming photon. This leads to the amplification of the original signal. The acronym LASER stands for Light Amplification from Stimulated Emission of Radiation

Nonlinear optical processes, on the other hand, involve interactions between light and matter where the response of the material is not directly proportional to the intensity of the incoming light. This results in phenomena like frequency mixing, phase modulation, and generation of new frequencies, which are distinct from the processes involved in laser emission.

So, while lasers play a crucial role in many nonlinear optical experiments and applications, the emission of laser light itself is NOT AN EXAMPLE of a non-linear optical process.

In order to generate femtosecond or attosecond light pulses Non-linear optical processes need to dominate over linear processes. 

In order to generate extremely short pulses of light, it’s crucial to rely on non-linear optical effects. Non-linear optical processes involve interactions between photons that result in behaviors not observed in linear systems. These processes are essential for achieving the high intensity and short pulse durations required for femtosecond and attosecond pulse generation.

In contrast, linear processes follow a direct proportionality between input and output signals, and they do not lead to the necessary levels of compression required for generating pulses in the femtosecond and attosecond regimes.

For femtosecond pulse generation, techniques like mode-locked lasers and chirped pulse amplification (CPA) are commonly employed. These methods rely on non-linear effects to compress and amplify pulses to the femtosecond range.

To generate attosecond pulses, high harmonic generation (HHG) is a primary technique. HHG relies on the interaction of an intense laser pulse with a gas target to produce high-order harmonics, which effectively generates extremely short bursts of light on the attosecond timescale.