Shadow photography of shock waves excited by means of a xenon chloride excimer laser was performed to determine the shock wave propagation velocity in air, nitrogen and helium. Energy densities between 500 and 2,000 mJ/cm2 were used to ablate a rotating rubber cylindrical target and porcine corneas. In ablating the rubber cylinder, a shock wave velocity of 3.3 km/s was generated in air and nitrogen at 40 ns; this decreased to 1.4 km/s at 320 ns. When helium was blown on the target, the velocity increased by a factor of approximately two, to 5.9 km/s at 40 ns and 2.7 km/s at 320 ns. We suggest that blowing helium on the surface of the cornea during excimer laser ablation may speed the dissipation of high-energy acoustic waves and gaseous particles, and thus reduce the exposure and transfer of heat energy to the surrounding tissue.
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