By revisiting a simple type of laser, scientists have discovered a way to exponentially increase the amount of energy released in incredibly short periods of time, with potential applications in surgery.
Lead author Dr Antoine Runge from the School of Physics. Photo: Louise Cooper
Scientists have developed a new type of laser that can deliver high amounts of energy in very short bursts of time, with potential applications in eye and heart surgery or the engineering of delicate materials.
The Director of the University of Sydney Institute of Photonics and Optical Science, Professor Martijn de Sterke, said: “This laser has the property that as its pulse duration decreases to less than a trillionth of a second, its energy could go through the roof.
“This makes them ideal candidates for the processing of materials that require short, powerful pulses. One application could be in corneal surgery, which relies on gently removing material from the eye. This requires strong, short light pulses that do not heat and damage the surface.”
The research is published today in Nature Photonics.
The scientists have achieved this remarkable result by returning to a simple laser technology that is common in telecommunications, metrology and spectroscopy. These lasers use an effect known as soliton waves, which are waves of light that maintain their shape over long distances.
Solitons were first identified in the early 19th century, not in light but in water waves in the industrial canals of England.
“The fact that soliton waves in light maintain their shape means they are excellent for a wide range of applications, including telecommunications and spectrometry,” said lead author Dr Antoine Runge from the School of Physics.
“However, while lasers producing these solitons are simple to make, they do not pack much punch. A completely different – and expensive – physical system is required to produce the high-energy optical pulses used in manufacturing.”
Dr Andrea Blanco-Redondo in the Sydney Nanoscience Hub, is now at
Bell Labs in the US.
“Soliton lasers are the most simple, cost-effective and robust way to achieve these short bursts. However, until now, conventional soliton lasers could not deliver enough energy, Dr Andrea Blanco - Redondo said.
“Our results have the potential to make soliton lasers useful for biomedical applications,” said Dr Blanco-Redondo, who was previously at the University of Sydney Nano Institute.