We observed a large optical bistability in a single-frequency thulium fiber laser with ring cavity configuration. A piece of unpumped Tm-doped fiber served as nonlinear saturable absorber (SA), which also acted as a narrow-bandpass filter by forming self-induced gratings with counter-propagate lasers and enabled single-frequency laser operation at 1720 nm. Due to the large absorption cross section of thulium ions at 1720 nm, the unpumped Tm-doped fiber has large variable losses, hence resulting in strong optical bistability. With 0.75-m SA fiber, a 4.8-W wide bistable region was achieved. The evolution of bistable region with different lengths of SA fibers was investigated. The bistable region became narrower with decreasing SA fiber length, and totally disappeared at a SA fiber length of 0.15 m. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first observation of optical bistability in thulium fiber lasers.
We have demonstrated an efficient 1720-nm all-fiber laser with ring-cavity configuration based on commercial Tmdoped silica fiber and 1570-nm in-band pump source. The rate equation model was built up to analyze the laser performance of Tm-doped fiber, which exhibits strong absorption in 1.7-μm region. The results show that efficient laser operation can be achieved through the optimization of output coupling and the length of Tm-doped fiber. By using homemade couplers, we experimentally achieved 2.36-W laser output power under 6-W launched pump power. The slope efficiency with respect to the absorbed pump power and optical efficiency were 50.2% and 39.3%, respectively. Due to the employment of ring resonator, a narrow laser linewidth of ~4 GHz at maximum output power was observed.