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The HeCd Laser Tube

Although the HeCd is still a gas laser, its construction is quite complex compared
to, say, a common HeNe laser tube. Specific reference may be made to
Omnichrome (Omni, now Melles Griot) HeCd lasers:

 Gas fill: The largest portion of the gas fill is helium (essentially 100
percent at startup) which sustains the electrical discharge and excites the
cadmium vapor, which is what actually is the lasing medium. Overall
helium pressure is regulated via closed loop feedback. There may be a
helium reserve with helium added as needed to maintain correct pressure.
Unlike a HeNe laser where there is no need to replenish helium over the
life of the laser, a HeCd laser must periodically add helium to maintain the
correct pressure.

The helium reservoir (with heater) and thermistor pressure/temperature


sensors in Omni HeCd lasers are located near the cathode-end of the
tube. There are two sets of sensors, each set sharing a common electrode,
should one set go bad. If one should go bad (not sure how this might
happen!), it's may be best to switch the wiring entirely to the other set,
though any two thermistors would probably work just about as well since
they are all identical. The partial pressure of helium is order of 1,000 times
that of cadmium during operation, so these pressure sensors are not
affected significantly by the cadmium pressure.

 Bore (capillary): Like HeNe lasers, HeCd laser tubes have a thick-walled
tube with a small hole in it where the main discharge and laser gain
actually takes place. But in HeCd lasers, this may be made of fused silica
or quartz instead of glass due to the higher current and bore temperature.
The bore of Omni HeCd lasers extends about an inch beyond where the
Cd vapor enters the bore. The discharge current through this "cataphoresis
bore" assures that Cd vapor only travels down the bore to the cadmium
condenser near the cathode, and not to the area of the HR (anode-end)
mirror where it could condense.
 Cadmium supply: In addition to the gas fill of helium, there is a cadmium
reservoir and wrap-around resistance heater to maintain a specific (closed
loop controlled) Cd vapor pressure in the tube. At startup, the cadmium is
at ambient temperature with negligible vapor pressure. A minute or two
after the heater is energized, cadmium pressure begins to increase
noticeably. Feedback may be based on tube voltage or simply Cd
temperature. During warmup, residual cadmium remaining in the bore from
previous operation may vaporize and momentarily produce some lasing,
which then disappears until the cadmium reservoir begins to approach
operating temperature. One of the factors determining HeCd tube lifetime
is how long enough Cd remains in the reservoir. The actual location of the
Cd reservoir may vary, but the Cd vapor is fed into the anode-end of the
tube. So, it may be near the anode, in a side-arm connected to the anode,
or somewhere else.

The Cd reservoir in Omni HeCd lasers surrounds the bore near the anode-
end of the bore (but not at or beyond it). A gap in the bore proveds access
for the Cd vapor.

 Cadmium condenser: Once the cadmium has done its job in the bore, it
must be directed to end up in a place where it will not cause trouble. A
mirror or Brewster window would be bad. So, there is an area just beyond
the end of the bore for this purpose. It will generally be kept cool and may
have a magnet to help direct the Cd. Since there's no guarantee that the
Cd build up in an nice thin film on the wall of the tube, some lasers have a
"remelt" function that applies current to a heater surrounding the cadmium
condenser to melt any stalagmites that my have been formed which could
potentially block the beam in the bore.

Some longer Omni HeCd tubes have the remelt heater and a user
activated remelt function. Shorter ones do not but perhaps a heat gun
could be used with care to do this if needed. But the melting point of Cd is
about 321 °C. So, maybe not. :( :) However, Cd may sublimate before it
melts at low pressure, but I have no information on that.

 Cathode: Since HeCd tubes operate at relatively high current - at least


compared to Helium-Neon (HeNe) lasers - a heated filament/cathode is
often used rather than the coaxial cold cathode design of a HeNe laser.

Omni HeCd laser tubes have dual heated filaments (if one should burn
out).

 Anode: The positive electrode may be the mirror mount (internal mirror
tubes) or a separate electrode. WARNING: Potentially lethal voltage!

Omni HeCd laser tubes have the HR mirror mount flange as the anode and
there may be no WARNING stickers with respect to the high voltage
dangers. Removing the cooling fan at the HR-end of cylindrical HeCd
lasers exposes this with no protection.

 Mirrors: HeCd laser tubes often have an internal mirror for just the High
Reflector (HR) or for the Output Coupler (OC) mirror as well. The former
arrangement allows line wavelength selection by changing an external OC
mirror or via a line selecting prism. Even with internal mirrors, some
adjustment is normally provided via compliant mirror mounts with
accessible screws. As usual, where external mirrors are used, Brewster
windows seal the end(s) of the tube.

Omni HeCd lasers use internal mirrors. Cylindrical Omni HeCd laser heads
use tubes with flanges that permit some mirror adjustment but they are not
attached to any part of the case or a resonator structure. Rectangular
Omni HeCd laser heads use tubes of similar design, but the flanges are
attached to a three-bar Invar resonator, with large nuts for adjustment
accessible from outside the case.

 Temperature sensor(s): To prevent damage in the event of overheating,


one or more sensors on the tube. Omni tubes have a silicon diode for this
purpose. If the forward voltage drop is greater than 0.5 V, the temperature
is low enough for starting. Below 0.25 V, the laser will shut down.