We report on the generation of picosecond self-mode-locked pulses from midinfrared quantum cascade lasers, at wavelengths within the important molecular fingerprint region. These devices are based on intersubband electron transitions in semiconductor nanostructures, which are characterized by some of the largest optical nonlinearities observed in nature and by picosecond relaxation lifetimes. Our results are interpreted with a model in which one of these nonlinearities, the intensity-dependent refractive index of the lasing transition, creates a nonlinear waveguide where the optical losses decrease with increasing intensity. This favors the generation of ultrashort pulses, because of their larger instantaneous intensity relative to continuous-wave emission.
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