Monday, December 22, 2008

"Lasers"


Do you like Star Wars? I do. I'm not one of those freaky, dress-up like Chewbacca fans, and talk like yoda, I do not, but what I really like about Star Wars are the lasers. It just seems like such a practical way to shoot things. No need to carry along a bunch of ammunition, all you need is your trusty multi-KiloWatt laser. Another benefit is that light travels, well, at the speed of light, much faster than a speeding bullet or a falling bomb. Lasers are used all over the place, most-notably for me, Flow Cytometry and Microscopy, but now it seems like the vision of Star Wars may be closer than ever. Darpa (The advanced research division of the Department of Defense) has been investigating weapons-grade lasers for some time, but with the use of some newer technologies, there may actually be a viable option. HELLADS, or High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System, a laser system developed by Textron, is getting some big government bucks to design and test a 150kW Laser Weapon System that could be carried on a Fighter Jet and be used to shoot down missiles. So, what's so special about the laser? It seems this laser system is using a series of thin ceramic slabs, bathed in rapidly circulating coolant to achieve a high power output while maintaining a non-destructive temperature load. These so-called slab lasers are attempting to tackle a long-standing problem with lasers, what to do with waste heat. If successfully employed, these types of technologies may trickle their way down to us lowly folks in the flow cytometry world, and I may actually be able to realize my goal of a centralized laser depot with a bunch of fiber-optic cables extending out of it. I've already got a name for it...Medussa! If you have a high enough laser source, you could split that beam a bunch of times, and using fiber optic cables, bring the light to any number of instruments using a "plug-n-play" connection scheme. Some day...