The physics of short-pulse polarization spectroscopy (PS) and the diagnostic potential for quantitative measurements of species concentration are investigated by direct numerical integration (DNI) of the time-dependent density matrix equations for a multistate system. The effects of laser power, collision rates, and Doppler broadening on the short-pulse PS signal generation process are investigated by systematically varying these parameters in the numerical calculations. It is found that the use of a short-pulse laser (laser pulse width τL<characteristic collision time τC) significantly decreases the collision-rate dependence of the PS signal compared to the long-pulse laser case LC), even for a nonsaturating pump beam. For a saturating pump beam, the short-pulse PS signal is found to be nearly independent of collision rate. Increasing the collision rate by a factor of 100 (from 108 to 1010s−1), the calculated PS signal strength decreases by only a factor of 2 for a 100-ps pump laser at high intensity. This insensitivity of the PS signal to the collision rate in the medium enhances greatly the potential for quantitative application of the technique for concentration measurements in reacting flows. The underlying physics of the short-pulse PS is explored by studying the effects of collision rate, Doppler broadening, and the pump laser intensity on the temporal profile of the Zeeman state populations and the coherences between the Zeeman states.

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