It did not take long after the invention of the laser for the field of laser damage to appear. For several decades researchers have been studying how lasers damage materials, both for the basic scientific understanding of highly nonequilibrium processes as well as for industrial applications. Femtosecond pulse lasers create little collateral damage and a readily reproducible damage pattern. They are easily tailored to desired specifications and are particularly powerful and versatile tools, contributing even more industrial interest in the field.
As with most long-standing fields of research, many theoretical tools have been developed to model the laser damage process, covering a wide range of complexities and regimes of applicability. However, most of the modeling methods developed are either too limited in spatial extent to model the full morphology of the damage crater, or incorporate only a small subset of the important physics and require numerous fitting parameters and assumptions in order to match values interpolated from experimental data.
Demonstrated in this work is the first simulation method capable of fundamentally modeling the full laser damage process, from the laser interaction all the way through to the resolidification of the target, on a large enough scale that can capture the full morphology of the laser damage crater so as to be compared directly to experimental measurements instead of extrapolated values, and all without any fitting parameters.
The design, implementation, and testing of this simulation technique, based on a modified version of the particle-in-cell (PIC) method, is presented. For a 60 fs, 1 µm wavelength laser pulse with fluences of 0.5 J/cm2, 1.0 J/cm2, and 2.0 J/cm2 the resulting laser damage craters in copper are shown and, using the same technique applied to experimental crater morphologies, a laser damage fluence threshold is calculated of 0.15 J/cm2, consistent with current experiments performed under conditions similar to those in the simulation.
Lastly, this method is applied to the phenomenon known as LIPSS, or Laser-Induced Periodic Surface Structures; a problem of fundamental importance that is also of great interest for industrial applications. While LIPSS have been observed for decades in laser damage experiments, the exact physical mechanisms leading to the periodic corrugation on the surface of a target have been highly debated, with no general consensus. Applying this technique to a situation known to create LIPSS in a single shot, the generation of this periodicity is observed, the wavelength of the damage is consistent with experimental measures and, due to the fundamental nature of the simulation method, the physical mechanisms behind LIPSS are examined. The mechanism behind LIPSS formation in the studied regime is shown to be the formation of and interference with an evanescent surface electromagnetic wave known as a surface plasmon-polariton. This shows that not only can this simulation technique model a basic laser damage situation, but it is also flexible and powerful enough to be applied to complex areas of research, allowing for new physical insight in regimes that are difficult to probe experimentally.