The detection of ultrashort laser-generated acoustic pulses at a metal surface and the reconstruction of the acoustic strain profile are investigated. A 2 ps-long acoustic pulse generated in an SrRuO3 layer propagates through an adjacent gold layer and is detected at its surface by a reflected probe pulse. We show that the intricate shape of the transient reflectivity waveform and the ability to resolve acoustic pulses shorter than the optical skin depth are controlled by a single parameter, which is determined by the ratio of the real and imaginary parts of the photoelastic constant of the material. We also demonstrate a Fourier transform-based algorithm that can be used to extract acoustic strain profiles from transient reflectivity measurements.

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