Published online by Cambridge University Press: 03 May 2011
In this introductory chapter we focus on the interaction of optical fields with matter because it forms the basis of signal amplification in all optical amplifiers. According to our present understanding, optical fields are made of photons with properties precisely described by the laws of quantum field theory . One consequence of this wave–particle duality is that optical fields can be described, in certain cases, as electromagnetic waves using Maxwell's equations and, in other cases, as a stream of massless particles (photons) such that each photon contains an energy hν, where h is the Planck constant and ν, is the frequency of the optical field. In the case of monochromatic light, it is easy to relate the number of photons contained in an electromagnetic field to its associated energy density. However, this becomes difficult for optical fields that have broad spectral features, unless full statistical features of the signal are known . Fortunately, in most cases that we deal with, such a detailed knowledge of photon statistics is not necessary or even required [3, 4]. Both the linear and the nonlinear optical studies carried out during the last century have shown us convincingly that a theoretical understanding of experimental observations can be gained just by using wave features of the optical fields if they are intense enough to contain more than a few photons . It is this semiclassical approach that we adopt in this book. In cases where such a description is not adequate, one could supplement the wave picture with a quantum description.