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Frickin' Lasers

February 25, 2011

Rheanna Sand

 

So, I have a bit of a fascination with lasers. Not only because my kitten chases them, or because they represent one of only a few acronyms to make it into the lowercase lexicon (Light Amplification by the Stimulated Emission of Radiation), and not because they remain a staple of Bond-esque villainry (pretty sure Cheney has one in his garage for “enhanced barbequeing”). They are just so awesome! And, science is making them even better.

Last week, a group from Yale published their report of the world’s first anti-laser. When I read this, I thought, do they mean they’ve created the world’s most incoherent, diffuse beam of light? Because that wouldn’t be very impressive. But no – they have created a laser that can completely snuff out one particular wavelength or colour of light, rather than amplifying that one wavelength as they normally do. Running a normal laser through a series of filters and mirrors, the researchers are now able to target and eliminate only very specific beams of light. This will improve existing attempts at optical computing and pave the way for new inventions we haven’t even dreamed up yet. It also gives Bond/Cheney’s neighbors a new gadget in their defensive arsenals.

But lasers rarely work in isolation. Another team led by John Badding at Penn State University, has developed a new type of optical fiber that will improve existing laser technologies, such as those used for military radar, medicine, and for detecting environmental pollutants. The innovation is in the material used to make the fibers. Typically, optic fibers are made of glass, but these new ones are made from zinc selenide, a light-yellow crystalline compound that also acts as a semi-conductor, a staple of modern electronics. So, even though existing optic cables can transmit over a terabyte of information per second, these new fibers will improve the versatility of colors, including expanding into the infrared for the first time.

Hmm. Better not tell Cheney about that one…can you say, fiber-optic ultra-hot ray gun? Or maybe a “frickin” fiber-optic ultra-hot ray gun?

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