A new class of lasers developed by a team that included physics researchers at Kansas State University could help scientists measure distances to faraway targets, identify the presence of certain gases in the atmosphere and send images of the earth from space.
These energy-efficient lasers also are portable, produce light at difficult-to-reach wavelengths and have the potential to scale to high-powered versions.
The new lasers were invented by Brian Washburn and Kristan Corwin, both associate professors of physics at Kansas State University’s College of Arts & Sciences, along with Andrew Jones, a May 2012 doctoral graduate in physics, and Rajesh Kadel, a May 2014 doctoral graduate in physics. Other contributors include three University of New Mexico physics and astronomy researchers: Wolfgang Rudolf, a Regents professor and department chair, Vasudevan Nampoothiri, a research assistant professor, and Amarin Ratanavis, a doctoral student; and John Zavada, a Virginia-based optic and photonic physicist who brought them all together.
The new lasers are fiber-based and use various molecular gases to produce light. They differ from traditional glass-tube lasers, which are large and bulky, and have mirrors to reflect the light. But the novel lasers use a hollow fiber with a honeycomb structure to hold gas and to guide light. This optical fiber is filled with a molecular gas, such as hydrogen cyanide or acetylene. Another laser excites the gas and causes a molecule of the excited gas to spontaneously emit light. Other molecules in the gas quickly follow suit, which results in laser light.