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U of MI Produces Strongest Laser Ever

Zonk posted more than 6 years ago | from the now-we-just-need-a-really-big-shark-and-we're-set dept.

Power 244

eldavojohn writes "Weighing in at a mere 20 billion trillion watts per square centimeter and containing a measly 300 terawatts of power, the University of Michigan has broken a record with a 1.3-micron speck wide laser. It's about two orders of magnitude higher than any other laser in the world and can perform for 30 femtoseconds once every ten seconds — some of the researchers speculate it is the most powerful laser in the universe. 'If you could hold a giant magnifying glass in space and focus all the sunlight shining toward Earth onto one grain of sand, that concentrated ray would approach the intensity of a new laser beam made in a University of Michigan laboratory ... To achieve this beam, the research team added another amplifier to the HERCULES laser system, which previously operated at 50 terawatts. HERCULES is a titanium-sapphire laser that takes up several rooms at U-M's Center for Ultrafast Optical Science. Light fed into it bounces like a pinball off a series of mirrors and other optical elements. It gets stretched, energized, squeezed and focused along the way.'" And ... cue the evil chortling.

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244 comments

Cool (5, Funny)

Charcharodon (611187) | more than 6 years ago | (#22451786)

Now if you can get it to fit in the weapons bay of a B1-B we might have something.

Not so cool (3, Insightful)

KiloByte (825081) | more than 6 years ago | (#22451902)

And, pray tell, what would a mere 9 joules pulse accomplish anything from a B1-B?

That "300 terawatts" is nothing if you take into account how short the beam lasts.

Re:Not so cool (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22452088)

Hmmm, joke... about ejaculating.... must resist..... Post Anonymously - check...

Re:Not so cool (5, Insightful)

Charcharodon (611187) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452108)

I make a movie reference and all I get is a physics Nazi. Well at least the first reply got it.

Really what did I expect, 3/4 of the people here weren't even born yet or were still shitting their diapers when Real Genius came out.

I guess I should have wasted "first post" on something obvious like "Sharks with frikin' laser beams attached to their heads"

If you've never seen the movie, your ability to post on /. is hereby suspsended until you do.

Re:Not so cool (-1, Offtopic)

Cederic (9623) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452324)


I have limited movie watching time. To put that in context, I have watched just 582 films in the last five years.

Given how many films were released before I was born, how many are released each year, and how many of those are likely to be of interest to me, I'm actually pretty comfortable about ignoring a mediocre 80s teen flick starring Val Kilmer.

I certainly don't consider it a pre-requisite to posting on Slashdot, whatever the state of my diapers.

Re:Not so cool (2, Insightful)

rkcth (262028) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452684)

582 films, in 5 years, you post on slashdot and you don't consider real genius to be one of the movies you should see? You're clearly a geek, get the movie, you'll enjoy it and you'll get more jokes. It's easily available on netflix. There are only a handful of must-see geek movies, this is high on that list.

Re:Cool (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22451944)

>Weighing in at a mere 20 billion trillion watts per square centimeter

That's not a weight. It's not even a density.

>containing a measly 300 terawatts of power

'k. We can tap it for fuel.

>It's about two orders of magnitude higher than any other laser in the world

Tall. Right. Gotcha. On a satellite, I presume?

>some of the researchers speculate it is the most powerful laser in the universe

The researchers are on acid... right, well, that's a problem.

>Light fed into it bounces like a pinball off a series of mirrors and other optical elements. It gets stretched, energized, squeezed and focused along the way.

Light gets... umm. Zonk's on acid. Ok, no news here, move along.

The power to destroy a planet... (2, Funny)

Andrew823 (1234604) | more than 6 years ago | (#22451796)

Now all they have to do is build a huge moon-sized military base around it.

Re:The power to destroy a planet... (3, Funny)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 6 years ago | (#22451852)

Now all they have to do is build a huge moon-sized military base around it.

That's no moon.....

Re:The power to destroy a planet... (1)

kitgerrits (1034262) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452682)

We just need to align 8 of these inside a moon and combine the beams.
Lockheed Martin already has a patent [wired.com] for that.
Mimas [solarviews.com] seems a better choice, though.

FP! (1)

F34nor (321515) | more than 6 years ago | (#22451800)

/rumor/ Is this more powerful than DARPA's EM laser where they drilled a hole in the earth, made a spherical chamber, and set off a nuke in it? The idea being that the chamber would shape the EM pulse into a coherent beam.

Safety first (4, Funny)

andy314159pi (787550) | more than 6 years ago | (#22451802)

20 billion trillion watts per square centimeter and containing a measly 300 terawatts of power
God, I hope they provide the students operating that thing with some safety goggles.

Re:Safety first (5, Funny)

JudgeSlash (823985) | more than 6 years ago | (#22451874)

My eyes! The goggles do nothing!

MOD PARENT INSIGHTFUL (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22452122)

For this story, the above comment should be modded +1, Insightful, not +1, Funny.

Re:Safety first (1)

CodyRazor (1108681) | more than 6 years ago | (#22451934)

What do they aim this thing at? Cause im imagining something with that kind of power isnt something you'd want to aim at a wall or.. anything really. Wouldnt it just instantly cut through like anything or am i missing something here

Re:Safety first (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22452260)

According to the paper, the total output energy is only 17 joules (watt-seconds). It wouldn't do anything at all to anything you aimed at it. When they fire it, they need special instruments just to detect that anything happened.

Yes but... (2, Funny)

Johnno74 (252399) | more than 6 years ago | (#22451810)

This development is clearly useless until the system is miniturised to the point it can be mounted on a shark.

Re:Yes but... (5, Insightful)

JohnSearle (923936) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452100)

This development is clearly useless until the system is miniturised to the point it can be mounted on a shark.
You're thinking small. Why miniaturize the laser, when we could instead enlarge the sharks?

- John

Re:Yes but... (4, Insightful)

Johnno74 (252399) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452160)

Nice, I like it.

You've obviously done a lot more thinking about the whole Dr-Evil thing than me!

Kegels (5, Funny)

Smordnys s'regrepsA (1160895) | more than 6 years ago | (#22451826)

[It] can perform for 30 femtoseconds once every ten seconds


That's nothing! I can perform for 3 seconds once every ten minutes!

Re:Kegels (1)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 6 years ago | (#22451832)

That's nothing! I can perform for 3 seconds once every ten minutes!

Yeah, but can you hammer a six-inch spike through a board with your penis?

Re:Kegels (1)

Doug Neal (195160) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452828)

That's nothing! I can perform for 3 seconds once every ten minutes!

Yeah, but can you hammer a six-inch spike through a board with your penis?

Yep, blunt end first.

Yeah, your ex mentioned that (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22451962)

She was not impressed.

all these strange figures (5, Informative)

howlingmadhowie (943150) | more than 6 years ago | (#22451880)

20 billion trillion watt per square centimeter = 2x10^26 Wm^-2
300 terawatt of power = 3x10^14 W
1.3 micron wide = ca. 1.7x10^-12 m^2 (for a square shape)
30 femtosecond = 3x10^-14 s

hope that clarifies things.

Re:all these strange figures (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22451884)

hope that clarifies things.

Nope, it doesn't!

Re:all these strange figures (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22451938)

You should use the <quote> tags instead of italics for quoting now.

Re:all these strange figures (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22451996)

You should use the <quote> tags instead of italics for quoting now.

Ok

Re:all these strange figures (1)

HetMes (1074585) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452070)

So, am I right in concluding that the pulse contains 'merely' 9 joules of energy? And that the power output of the device is 0.9W? Hence not quite able to warm up my meal? Awesome!

... and that amounts to (5, Informative)

ebcdic (39948) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452382)

... 9 Joules delivered in each pulse, one every 10 seconds. Giving an average power of about 1 Watt. Ideal for taking over very small universes.

Re:all these strange figures (4, Informative)

Mike1024 (184871) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452538)

300 terawatt of power = 3x10^14 W
30 femtosecond = 3x10^-14 s


The duty cycle is 30 femtoseconds per 10 seconds.

If the '300 terrawatts' of power is consumed for 30 femtoseconds per 10 seconds, the average power consumption over 10 seconds is (3 * ((10^14) W) * 3 * ((10^(-14)) s)) / (10 s) = 0.9 watts

If, on the other hand, the 300 terrawatts is the average power consumption over 10 seconds, the power consumption when the laser is on is (3 * ((10^14) W) * (10 s)) / (3 * (10^(-14)) s) = 1.0 × 10^29 watts = 100,000 yottawatts

Yotta- is the largest SI prefix, and the total energy output of the Sun is 383 YW.

I suspect the former interpretation is more likely. This laser isn't so impressive when you realise it takes less power than my computer monitor... when my computer monitor is turned off.

So what can you do with it? (3, Interesting)

NitroWolf (72977) | more than 6 years ago | (#22451890)

So this is like a serious question:

What can you do with this thing? Why does it exist? Just to say it's there, or does it have some function beyond bragging rights?

Re:So what can you do with it? (3, Informative)

Detritus (11846) | more than 6 years ago | (#22451968)

There is a lot of interesting materials science done with lasers that produce very short and very intense pulses of light. This laser might be useful for something like that. There is also the possibility of using it for long distance communication or ranging. Radar systems get decent range by transmitting short pulses of RF at very high power levels. The average power is low enough to keep power consumption and heat dissipation at manageable levels.

Re:So what can you do with it? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22452222)

Ever forget to turn the TV off when you go to work? Now you can leave a remote in your desk drawer and turn it off from there.

FS-Lasers are cool beasts (5, Informative)

imsabbel (611519) | more than 6 years ago | (#22451906)

Because focussed correctly, the extremely high field strenght in the focal point can create effects that at first seem physically implausible.

For example there is one effect that seems to "break" quantum phyiscs (or more exactly, the photo-effect): You can excite electrons out of energy levels that are bound stronger than the photon energy. Even if they are bound _a_ lot stronger. The electric fields can be strong enough to strip atoms from everything down to and including the k-shell (I have one seen a presenter show a silde mentioning 37-photon effects...)
This can be used to create hard x-rays, or, of course, as a particle accelerator: You can GeV on ion energyies from them with a relatively simple setup.

This is of course for "normal" FS-Lasers, wich fill not much more than a large optical bank. But something tells me that _this_ one can make even more intersting stuff happen :)

Re:FS-Lasers are cool beasts (4, Interesting)

JohnFluxx (413620) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452256)

I got annoyed at the way the photo-electric effect was taught. It had always seemed 'obvious' that if a single photon didn't have enough energy to free an electron, then maybe two photons struck the metal at the same time.

I found out later that my hunch was correct - it's just unlikely for two photons to hit an atom at exactly the same (to within a plancks time) with a low powered laser.

While I'm on the subject of laser, another cool things about high powered lasers is that the photons can collide. If you shine two beams so that they cross paths, some photons will collide with each other and scatter. This has always fascinated me since it shows that the distinction between matter and light is a very fine one indeed.

Another cool thing about this laser is that the pulse is very short. Now because the position is being constrained (since it's a short pulse), it must mean that the momentum is very uncertain. (You cannot know the position and velocity of something at the same time). This in turn means that the laser has a whole range of wavelengths - it does not have a specific wavelength. Which, to me, makes it very un-laser-like. It's not coherent, monochromatic, etc.

Re:FS-Lasers are cool beasts (4, Informative)

ortholattice (175065) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452478)

I found out later that my hunch was correct - it's just unlikely for two photons to hit an atom at exactly the same (to within a plancks time) with a low powered laser.

A Planck time (10^-43 s)? How do you conclude that number?

If you shine two beams so that they cross paths, some photons will collide with each other and scatter.

The actual mechanism, I believe, is that a photon can momentarily fluctuate into a charged fermion/antifermion pair, and the cross-beam interacts with those particles.

Re:FS-Lasers are cool beasts (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22452522)

You are absolutely right about the short pulse duration producing a non-monochromatic pulse. What you actually get is a vast number of laser beams operating at a very slightly different frequency (each on an adjacent cavity mode) being produced in phase. It is kind of like a beat pattern produced by many in phase, colinear sources. These produce a laser pulse with a very short coherence length and significant bandwidth. The process for making these pulses is known as modelocking.

Re:FS-Lasers are cool beasts (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22452754)

If the beams collide, then maybe you'll get the effect produced in the GhostBusters movie. (Remember when they let the 3 beams cross?)

Re:FS-Lasers are cool beasts (1)

imsabbel (611519) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452770)

You shouldnt argue in terms of planck units. They simply dont fit well into the physics (being on the border of the laws).

Its a much easier picture if you just think about the particle / wave aspect of photons:
Photoeffect is, basically, strictly particle. But considering the wave nature of photons, you have a wavepacket that has a physical size. This allows for many photons to have a probability of existing in the _same_ spot, at the _same_ time. Now all you need is fermis golden rule, and some matrix elements to calculate the probabilties.

Re:FS-Lasers are cool beasts (1)

jd (1658) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452296)

IIRC, femtosecond pulse lasers usually get mentioned with all kinds of freakish things, like ultrablack materals. In this case, I suspect the problem will be finding any material afterwards for reasons other than stealth.

WARNING (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22451960)

Do not stare into laser with remaining city block.

Most powerful laser in the universe? (2, Insightful)

LS (57954) | more than 6 years ago | (#22451970)

I guess these researchers don't consider the possibility that there may be advanced extraterrestrial civilization. Perhaps they should say the KNOWN universe

LS

Re:Most powerful laser in the universe? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22452794)

It's the most powerful laser in America. That's enough to make it the most powerful laser in the universe.

Possibly... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22451990)

Possibly the most powerful laser in the universe...

Possibly not very impressive to a squadron of Klingon attack cruisers...

Re:Possibly... (2, Funny)

Provocateur (133110) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452350)

Yet impressive enough for a Klingon officer to turn and say,

"Commander, this confirms that the inhabitants are hostile. Shall we assume battle stations?"

Commander: "We are Klingons. What other stations do we have?"

Large spinning mirror (3, Funny)

tokki (604363) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452010)

All you would need is a tracking system and a large spinning mirror, and you could vaporize a human target from space.

Take this with a Grain of salt (1)

wooferhound (546132) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452014)

What would happen if you focused this laser onto a Grain of Sand ?

Re:Take this with a Grain of salt (1)

lazy_playboy (236084) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452226)

I calculate that it'd heat the grain of sand by 9 million kelvin (9Joules into a 10microgram grain with heat capcity of 1000J/KgK).

What comes next... (5, Funny)

TBerben (1061176) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452064)

Student: What are we going to do with this immensely powerful laser, professor?
Professor: We shall commence "Phase 2", we shall place the "la-ser" on something called "the moon"
Student: And then we can hold the world ransom for a horrendously large amount of money :D
Professor: Hell no! We're going to wipe all other universities off the face of the Earth!

In the universe? (1)

clarkkent09 (1104833) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452076)

it is the most powerful laser in the universe

Only if there is no other intelligent life in the universe in which case any technology that is the best in some way on earth is also the best in the universe.

Anyway, what can it do? You'd think they would give some examples of burning holes through stuff.

Re:In the universe? (4, Informative)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452266)

I think they were refering to the known universe and alluding to natural lasers [google.com.au] .

In contrast the best particle beams on the planet get a few gold atoms to near light speed, while the natural ones can easily get the planet Jupiter moving at that pace.

Re:In the universe? (1)

evanbd (210358) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452644)

And, at least for protons (as opposed to larger atomic nuclei), something out there has anything we can build beat [wikipedia.org] by a wide, wide margin...

Re:In the universe? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22452308)

Look at the numbers - it's focused on a micron-sized area. This is going to burn no holes - it does micro-vaporization, hence micro-plasma study, various non-equilibrium processes and so on.

--
perverse /. captcha: inform

Don't be too proud (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22452168)

of this technological terror you've constructed.

Okay, it is impressive, but what the non-scientists might be missing here is that energy in Joules is the product of time and power. For a unit of energy you get more Watts as you have less Seconds. It's like rolling a ball of modelling clay out, the longer it grows the thinner it gets.

Billons of Watts is a large amount of power

Femtoseconds is an extremely short amount of time.

So, the energy delivered by this isn't as much as some other lasers (like a continuous beam amonium chemical maser that can be used as an anti-aircraft weapon). The term "high power" laser doesn't really mean what you think. You'll be wanting a "high energy" laser for your sharks Sir.

Warning label. (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22452194)

“Do not look into laser with remaining head.”

Ohio State... (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22452196)

...suddenly begins new research into building even LARGER laser.

Re:Ohio State... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22452758)

One should think that they need the universe's most reflective mirror before they go building a larger laser.

How many ants (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22452228)

I wonder how many ants I could kill with that laser...
that's the first idea that came to my mind hehehe

I can't do it, captain! I don't have the POWER! (2, Interesting)

longbot (789962) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452278)

Inquiring minds want to know... to run this thing, do they have an on-premises nuclear reactor, or just an obscenely high electric bill? TFA is short on details in that department.

I know it's not actually using that full rated 300 terawatts ("300 times the capacity of the entire U.S. electricity grid") in such incredibly short bursts, but nonetheless, it's still got to eat a lot of juice.

Re:I can't do it, captain! I don't have the POWER! (1)

Whiteox (919863) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452356)

Yeah. It's not very green is it!
So much for politically correct carbon neutral advancements in applied physics.......

Re:I can't do it, captain! I don't have the POWER! (1)

longbot (789962) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452392)

Actually, this sort of development might well lead to advances in fusion power, given time.

So it's not really ALL bad.

Re:I can't do it, captain! I don't have the POWER! (1)

palmersperry (242842) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452534)

Inquiring minds want to know... to run this thing, do they have an on-premises nuclear reactor, or just an obscenely high electric bill? TFA is short on details in that department.
I'd imagine they have a really large bank of capacitors?

Re:I can't do it, captain! I don't have the POWER! (1)

Eternauta3k (680157) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452592)

Read the other comments, it takes something like 9 joules, no huge electric bill needed.

Mine's bigger (1)

tal_mud (303383) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452294)

"researchers speculate it is the most powerful laser in the universe"

They say that the applied Physics dept. at Alpha Centauri almost got funding for a Laser that was twice as powerful, but the funds got sidetracked to fund a SETI project.

Safety Warning (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22452302)

Do not look into this with remaini -oh shit.

At what do they point it? (2, Interesting)

battamer (846008) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452320)

Out of honest curiosity, at what do they point such a strong laser? My movie-fed ignorance has me imagining the beam burning through walls.

Re: Magnifying glasses (2, Funny)

ozbird (127571) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452634)

"If you could hold a giant magnifying glass in space and focus all the sunlight shining toward Earth onto one grain of sand, that concentrated ray would approach the intensity of a new laser beam made in a University of Michigan laboratory ..."

Please, won't someone think of the ants?!

How do they power it? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22452694)

The article states:

"It contains 300 terawatts of power. That's 300 times the capacity of the entire U.S. electricity grid."

So, where exactly are they getting the power for this thing? Does this explain why my lights were blinking the other day? I figured it was The Cheat, but perhaps...

Yes Mr. Biglesworth!!!! (1)

lindoran (1190189) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452762)

all i have to say is "1 Million dollars"..... (* evil grin, pinkie curled at side of mouth *)
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