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Ultrafast light-material interactions near the damage threshold are often studied using postmortem analysis of damaged dielectric materials. Corresponding simulations of ultrashort pulse propagation through the material are frequently used to gain additional insight into the processes leading to such damage. However, comparison between such experimental and numerical results is often qualitative, and pulses near to but not exceeding the damage threshold leave no permanent changes in the material for postmortem analysis. In this article, a series of experiments is presented that measures the near- and far-field properties of a 140-fs laser pulse after propagation through a fused silica sample in which a noncritical electron plasma was generated. Concurrently, results from simulations in which the laser pulse was numerically constructed according to the nearfield beam profile and frequency resolved optical gating (FROG) trace are presented. It is found that to extract a quantitative comparison of such data, cylindrical symmetry of the laser pulse in simulations should be abandoned in favor of a fully 3+1D Cartesian representation. Further comparison of experimental and calculated damage thresholds shows that time-corrective effects predicted by the Drude model play a critical role in the physics of both pulse evolution and plasma formation. The influence of resulting spatiotemporal dependences of the pulse in far-field measurements leads to unretrievable FROG traces. However, it is shown through both simulation and experiment that the use of an appropriate beam aperture will eliminate this effect when measuring the temporal pulse amplitude.

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Physical Review A

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