FAST Lab Tour

Come on inside

... don't forget to wear your safety goggles - The FAST lab contains high power lasers that can produce pulses from infrared to ultraviolet. This can be very dangerous for the eyes, even if beams are only viewed indirectly. Direct exposure to the beams themselves can also damage skin.

The FAST lab is unique within the ORC, in that the facilities are a central resource rather than attached to a specific group. This means that the exact setup of the equipment and the experiments taking place vary considerably.

The floorplan of the lab, however, is relatively unchanging. This is because two tonnes of optical table is not easily moved. These heavy tables significantly reduce the vibrations transmitted to the experiments - very important when experiments can be looking at something around 20nm in size; just a few molecules. Camera-shake can be a bit of a problem.

The Laser System

The laser system has wavelength coverage from 230nm (ultraviolet) to 10Ám (infrared) with pulse energies up to 2.5mJ. Because this 2.5mJ is contained in such a short pulse, the peak power approaches 50 Gigawatts.

50GW put in Perspective

50 Gigawatts is very high power, equivalent to more than 30 nuclear power stations. The entire capactiy of the national grid for the UK is around 70GW.

2.5mJ is not a lot of energy, but confined to a small time and space it is enough to do very unusual things to matter. These unusual behaviours is what we study, to push the boundaries of our understanding of physics, chemistry and biology, and develop new technology out of that understanding.

Detectors and Diagnostics

No laboratory would be complete without a full range of diagnostic and detection equipment, and the FAST lab is no exception. There are power meters to cover all parameters. Autocorrelation and spectrometers both currently cover the range 235nm to 2.6Ám.

The FAST Biolab

Attached to the main laboratory is a 'clean' biolab. Here laser pulses can be routed through to an optical table for biophotonics experiments. The lab includes a Heraeus Class II Cabinet and Heraeus CO2 Incubator.
A fridge, freezer and dishwasher, make this a home from home for today's busy physicist / biologist / chemist.

Ultrafast Research

The ORC's interest in femtosecond science covers many areas including nonlinear optical phenomenamaterials science, biophotonics and nano-technology. This covers a wide area, several of the ORC's research groups, and collaborative projects with several other disciplines.


We are currently developing experiments designed to combine the high spatial resolution of Scanning Near-Feild Optical Microscopy (SNOM) with the ultrafast time-scales given by femtosecond pulses. The image on the left is the tuning-fork/optical probe based system we have assembled.

Micromachining workstation

This commercial micromachining workstation has computer controlled energy delivery and focusing of laser pulses. It is suitable for both surface ablation and waveguide writing within samples.

Vacuum Chamber

The vacuum chamber/femtosecond pulse system is being utilised to develop various materials science experiments.

Copyright University of Southampton 2006