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25 years of collaboration: a Russian- Swiss success story

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This year’s International Conference on Advanced Laser Technologies (ALT12) returns to Switzerland, exactly ten years after its first successful organization in the Bernese Oberland. The conference builds on 25 years of intense research collaboration between the Russian Academy of Sciences, the University of Bern, and a dedicated team of researchers at BUAS.

Sergei Pimenov and Valerio Romano Photo: courtesy of Sergei Pimenov, GPI RAS

It is exactly ten years ago that the ALT02 conference was held in the town of Adelboden, a famous tourist resort in the centre of the western Bernese highlands. The conference was the tenth in a series of events dedicated to the advancement of the theory and application of laser technology. The prestigious series was established by the Prokhorov General Physics Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences in 1993. The institute was named after Nobel laureate Alexander Mikhailovich Prokhorov, who received the Nobel Prize for his research in the field of quantum electronics in 1964. This year’s ALT conference returns to the gate of the Bernese highlands – the historic city of Thun – bringing together leading scientists and researchers from all over the world.

Successful partnership since 1987
The organization of the ALT conference is only the latest event in a long and successful history of joint activities between Russia and Switzerland: Exactly 25 years ago, in 1987, a first collaboration was established between the General Physics Institute in Moscow and the Institute of Applied Physics in Bern. The collaboration aimed at exploring new ways of developing and processing laser materials. The laser material of greatest interest to the IAP at that time was erbium-doped crystal. This material made it possible to generate laser radiation in mid-infrared (i.e. at 3 micrometer) wavelength. Light of this wavelength is absorbed very efficiently within one-thousandth of a millimeter in water, and hence in human tissue; it can therefore cut tissue efficiently and very precisely at low energy and with minimum heat-affected zone. Prof. Weber, at that time head of the laser department at the IAP, was investigating the use of laser radiation in medicine. These interests coincided with the interests of Prof. Konov and Prof. Shcherbakov at the GPI, which led to fruitful joint work in the study of laser interaction with human tissue, as well as the spectroscopic analysis of laser materials, for the purpose of generating those wavelengths. This initial collaboration led, in 1996, to the start of a joint research project funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation. The project was a great success and institutional partnership projects followed, facilitating regular exchange visits between Russia and Switzerland. Recently, the General Physics Institute in Moscow, the Institute for Single Crystals (Ukraine) and Institute for Applied Laser, Photonics and Surface Technologies at BUAS launched a new Swiss National Science Foundation project, which is led by Prof. Valerio Romano at BUAS.

SEM picture of two holes into human hair. Photo: Courtesy of Prof. W. Lüthy, IAP University of Bern

Advances in ultrashort-pulse laser technology The present collaboration between Russia, Ukraine and Switzerland forms a continuous line of research from the activities in the past. The joint SNF project, which is due to be completed in 2012, springs from the recent interest in ultrashort-pulse laser technology. The project aims at exploring new possibilities in material processing with ultrashort pulses required for applications in photonics, data storage, micro-mechanical and micro-optical devices. Ultrashort laser pulses, for example, can be used to produce inscribed «wires» inside diamond for electronic or photonic applications.
For this purpose, a variety of advanced optical materials including diamond, sapphire, lithium niobate, and nanocrystalline films of silicon carbide (nc-SiC) are currently studied. A particular goal of each potential application is to demonstrate how much the material properties can be changed by only ‹small› changes induced by ultrashort pulses in micrometer- and submicrometer-sized regions of transparent materials.
Joint research activities in the project focus on the synthesis of nanocrystalline SiC films, the investigation of structure and optical properties, and laser modification of crystals and thin films.
Ultrashort-pulse laser technology will be the subject of intense interest in the research community for a long time to come. And there is little doubt that the Russian-Swiss partnership will continue to be at the forefront of these developments.

Two-dimensional structure (arrays of craters) with the period of 4 μm in diamond to change its optical properties Photos: Courtesy of GPI RAS