Written by Jonny Williamson
Buying your weekly groceries, listening to music, watching a film, using a computer, the everyday application of laser beams have become a ubiquitous part of our daily lives. The manufacturing process has also embraced the power of lasers, from spirit-levels to using the heat generated by beams to etch in product serial codes, hot even for computer-guided cutters to go through steel. Medical use includes corrective eye-surgery and the closing of wounds to help save lives, whereas conversely the military use lasers to pinpoint targets for guided-missile strikes.
Now, a team from the University of California at San Diego have demonstrated the smallest room-temperature laser, the ‘nanolaser’. The new technique allows the creation of low-power lasers smaller than one micron in diameter (one-thousandth of a millimetre). The challenge when making such small lasers is energy-efficiency, to make a sustained beam of light on such a minute-scale previously used far more energy to create it than it generated. To solve this problem, the UCSD team created a laser using a similar structure similar to that of a coaxial cable, the same as the one which carries the television signal into homes.
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This follows the experiments last May by a group at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany who recorded a new world record for the rate of data-transfer sent using a single laser, 26 terabytes a second.
These two breakthroughs combined could have massive impact in the years ahead with many domestic, public service and manufacturing applications. The nanolaser, coupled with the potential to send vast amounts of data more rapidly, could herald changes primarily to the telecommunication industry, who are constantly striving to satisfy demands for higher and higher data-rates. Other uses include allowing computers to function at far greater speeds, more powerful and sensitive bio-microscopes, similar to those that produce images of viruses and DNA, even the potential to create more efficient solar-energy panels.