A laser amplifier system amplifies pulses in a single "stage" from .about.10.sup.-9 joules to more than 10.sup.-3 joules, with average power of 1-10 watts, and beam quality M.sup.2 <2. The laser medium is cooled substantially below room temperature, as a means to improve the optical and thermal characteristics of the medium. This is done with the medium inside a sealed, evacuated or purged cell to avoid moisture or other materials condensing on the surface. A "seed" pulse from a separate laser is passed through the laser medium, one or more times, in any of a variety of configurations including single-pass, multiple-pass, and regenerative amplifier configurations.
The present invention was made with government support under Contract Number DE-FG03-99ER1498 awarded by the Department of Energy and Contract Number Phy 95-12150 awarded by the National Science Foundation.