The Mark-III Free Electron Laser (FEL), tuned to λ=6.45 μm has been demonstrated to provide for efficient ablation in ocular and neural tissues with minimal collateral damage. To date, the role of the FEL pulse structure on the mechanism of ablation has not been determined. In an effort to study the role of the FEL micropulse on the ablation of corneal tissue, the native pulse structure of the FEL, a 2.85 gigahertz repetition of picosecond pulses within a five microsecond macropulse envelope, was changed using a a pulse stretcher. This device changes the duration of the micropulse from 1 picosecond to 30-200 picoseconds in length, thus reducing the peak intensity of the micropulse by as much as 200x the original intensity, while the macropulse energy remains unchanged.
Two basic metrics were studied: the ablation threshold on water and the ablation crater depth on gelatin. These metrics were employed at λ=6.45 and 6.1 μm for 1, 100, and 200 picoseconds in micropulse duration. The results showed a very slight difference between the 1, 100, and 200 picosecond micropulse duration, given a 200 fold decrease in peak energy for both the threshold and crater depth measurements. Brightfield imaging was also performed to probe the ablation dynamics and showed no difference between the 1 and 200 ps micropulses.
The effect of changing the micropulse duration was studied on the ablation of canine cornea. Craters (500 micron diameter) were created with 25 pulses at three times the ablation threshold as determined for water on freshly enucleated corneas within 12 hours of removal. Three rows of seven craters were created on the center of each cornea. The native one picosecond micropulse and 200 picosecond stretched micropulse were compared at λ=6.1 and 6.45 μm. Histological data shows that less thermal damage is present at 6.1 μm compared with 6.45 μm; however, there is no significant difference between the native and stretched pulses with respect to thermal damage.