The invention consists of a method for high precision machining (cutting, drilling, sculpting) of metals and alloys. By using pulses of a duration in the range of 10 femtoseconds to 100 picoseconds, extremely precise machining can be achieved with essentially no heat or shock affected zone. Because the pulses are so short, there is negligible thermal conduction beyond the region removed resulting in negligible thermal stress or shock to the material beyond approximately 0.1-1 micron (dependent upon the particular material) from the laser machined surface. Due to the short duration, the high intensity (>10.sup.12 W/cm.sup.2) associated with the interaction converts the material directly from the solid-state into an ionized plasma. Hydrodynamic expansion of the plasma eliminates the need for any ancillary techniques to remove material and produces extremely high quality machined surfaces with negligible redeposition either within the kerf or on the surface. Since there is negligible heating beyond the depth of material removed, the composition of the remaining material is unaffected by the laser machining process. This enables high precision machining of alloys and even pure metals with no change in grain structure.
The United States Government has rights in this invention pursuant to Contract No. W-7405-ENG48 between the United States Department of Energy and the University of California for the operation of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.