Frequency-Modulated Combs Obey a Variational Principle. Academic Article uri icon


  • Laser dynamics encompasses universal phenomena that can be encountered in many areas of physics, such as bifurcation and chaos, mode competition, resonant nonlinearities, and synchronization-or locking-of oscillators. When a locking process occurs in a multimode laser, an optical frequency comb is produced, which is an optical spectrum consisting of equidistant modes with a fixed phase relationship. Describing the formation of self-starting frequency combs in terms of fundamental laser equations governing the field inside the cavity does not allow one, in general, to grasp how the laser synchronizes its modes. Our finding is that, in a particular class of lasers where the output is frequency modulated with small or negligible intensity modulation, a greatly simplified description of self-locking exists. We show that in quantum cascade lasers-solid-state representatives of these lasers characterized by an ultrashort carrier relaxation time-the frequency comb formation obeys a simple variational principle, which was postulated over 50years ago and relies on the maximization of the laser output power. The conditions for the breakdown of this principle are also experimentally identified, shedding light on the behavior of many different types of lasers, such as dye, diode, and other cascade lasers. This discovery reveals that the formation of frequency-modulated combs is an elegant example of an optimization problem solved by a physical system.

published proceedings

  • Phys Rev Lett

altmetric score

  • 24.75

author list (cited authors)

  • Piccardo, M., Chevalier, P., Schwarz, B., Kazakov, D., Wang, Y., Belyanin, A., & Capasso, F.

citation count

  • 21

complete list of authors

  • Piccardo, Marco||Chevalier, Paul||Schwarz, Benedikt||Kazakov, Dmitry||Wang, Yongrui||Belyanin, Alexey||Capasso, Federico

publication date

  • June 2019