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The thermodynamic response of soft biological tissues to pulsed ultraviolet laser irradiation


The physical mechanisms that enable short pulses of high-intensity ultraviolet laser radiation to remove tissue, in a process known as laser ablation, remain obscure. The thermodynamic response of biological tissue to pulsed laser irradiation was investigated by measuring and subsequently analyzing the stress transients generated by pulsed argon fluorine (ArF, lambda = 193 nm) and krypton fluorine (KrF, lambda = 248 nm) excimer laser irradiation of porcine dermis using thin-film piezoelectric transducers. For radiant exposures that do not cause material removal, the stress transients are consistent with rapid thermal expansion of the tissue. At the threshold radiant exposure for ablation, the peak stress amplitude generated by 248 nm irradiation is more than an order of magnitude larger than that produced by 193 nm irradiation. For radiant exposures where material removal is achieved, the temporal structure of the stress transient indicates that the onset of material removal occurs during irradiation. In this regime, the variation of the peak compressive stress with radiant exposure is consistent with laser-induced rapid surface vaporization. For 193 nm irradiation, ionization of the ablated material occurs at even greater radiant exposures and is accompanied by a change in the variation of peak stress with radiant exposure consistent with a plasma-mediated ablation process. These results suggest that absorption of ultraviolet laser radiation by the extracellular matrix of tissue leads to decomposition of tissue on the time scale of the laser pulse. The difference in volumetric energy density at ablation threshold between the two wavelengths indicates that the larger stresses generated by 248 nm irradiation may facilitate the onset of material removal. However, once material removal is achieved, the stress measurements demonstrate that energy not directly responsible for target decomposition contributes to increasing the specific energy of the plume (and plasma, when present), which drives the gas dynamic expansion of ablated material. This provides direct evidence that ultraviolet laser ablation of soft biological tissues is a surface-mediated process and not explosive in nature.

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