We discuss a novel method for generating octave-spanning supercontinua and few-cycle pulses in the important mid-IR wavelength range. The technique relies on strongly phase-mismatched cascaded second-harmonic generation (SHG) in mid-IR nonlinear frequency conversion crystals. Importantly we here investigate the so-called noncritical SHG case, where no phase matching can be achieved but as a compensation the largest quadratic nonlinearities are exploited. A self-defocusing temporal soliton can be excited if the cascading nonlinearity is larger than the competing material self-focusing nonlinearity, and we define a suitable figure of merit to screen a wide range of mid-IR dielectric and semiconductor materials with large effective second-order nonlinearities deff. The best candidates have simultaneously a large bandgap and a large deff. We show selected realistic numerical examples using one of the promising crystals: in one case soliton pulse compression from 50 fs to 15 fs (1.5 cycles) at 3.0 μm is achieved, and at the same time a 3-cycle dispersive wave at 5.0 μm is formed that can be isolated using a long-pass filter. In another example we show that extremely broadband supercontinua can form spanning the near-IR to the end of the mid-IR (nearly 4 octaves).
Optical Materials Express, 2013, Vol 3, Issue 10, p. 1647-1657