Research is pivotal to any scientific field because without it, there would be no new answers to the infinite number of questions about what makes up our universe. With that said, research is complicated, and it takes a lot of people and a lot of precise tools to get calculations that come close to answering those questions. Laser diodes provide an incredibly useful tool to help researchers answer the universe’s most challenging questions. Read on to learn about a few ways that researchers are using lasers in research applications.
Laser-Based Manufacturing Improvements
Researchers have used lasers for decades for various applications, but there have been few ways to accurately and directly observe how lasers interact with different materials. Researchers have observed a laser pulse’s fluency (optical energy) in a given area using the less expensive Raspberry Pi Camera. Combined with laser microscopes measuring the hole shape resulting from the laser, teams are producing data sets connecting fluency and hole depth.
Using data sets with up to 250,000 data points each, researchers can improve machine learning and run simulations to better understand the interactions between lasers and materials. By doing this, researchers can improve the accuracy and controllability of laser processing, enabling manufacturers to use the technology more broadly within their business.
Optical trapping is when researchers use tools to exert microscopic forces on dielectric objects. By doing this, researchers can physically hold and manipulate or even repulse various materials, and many different industries can use this laser tool for their research.
This process is made possible by utilizing highly focused laser beams to produce localized magnetic fields. These strong electric field gradients attract dielectric objects to the beam waist, where the strongest part of the electrical field is. Once researchers trap this particle in the beam waist, they can then translate it to another location.
By moving around these dielectric objects, researchers can better study the single molecules attached to them and conduct further research into the different properties of their DNA and associated proteins. These optical trapping setups operate in the fundamental wavelength of one micrometer. Researchers use this frequency because many biological samples have a low absorption coefficient at this wavelength, minimizing the damage to the biological material they’re working with.
Laser ultrasonics is the practice of using lasers to generate and detect the ultrasonic waves in our universe. Researchers additionally use ultrasonics for the nondestructive testing of composite materials in many industries. First, they use lasers to generate ultrasonic waves. Then, they use lasers to detect them using techniques such as Fabry-Pérot interferometry. As the laser pulse strikes the surface of a material, a thermal expansion occurs. If the laser causes the material to boil, ultrasound is generated as a recoil mechanism of the expanding material.
When researchers use higher-power lasers, the material will be purely ablated, and plasma will form. The plasma changes the ultrasound waves generated; this detected change is then converted into an electrical signal. Through this process, researchers can measure a material’s thickness, characteristics, and any flaws that it may have.
Light detection and ranging (LIDAR) is a method for remotely sensing subjects that are too distant to measure directly. By using a light source to illuminate a subject, researchers can analyze the reflected radiation and light scatter with sophisticated sensor technology. Through a continuous barrage of pulsed lasers, researchers can examine anything from microscopic particles to large landmasses, analyzing material density and chemical composition.
For example, researchers use LIDAR in geology to detect changes in topographical features like faults, glacial movements, erosion, and volcanic activity. Many LIDAR systems are satellite-based so researchers can examine the earth on a macroscopic scale.
Similarly, meteorologists use LIDAR in meteorology to profile cloud patterns and predict future weather patterns. Advanced applications in this field examine environmental changes such as greenhouse gas emissions by measuring carbon concentration in the atmosphere.
Shearography is a research and testing method similar to holographic interferometry, where researchers use light and sound waves to analyze materials. Illuminating surfaces with highly concentrated laser light creates an interference pattern that researchers can use to better understand and test various materials.
Shearography is a nondestructive testing method that reveals information about materials through strain measurements and vibration analyses. Mechanical engineers conduct substantial material research using this method as it is relatively resistant to other environmental disturbances and even works on challenging honeycomb materials.
The universe is full of mysteries that are impossible to unravel, but with technology like the atomic clock, researchers can experiment and test in ways previously unimaginable. The atomic clock has been around for a while, and it measures time by monitoring the radiation frequency of atoms. As time progressed, its timekeeping opened multiple pathways for researchers to test fundamental Newtonian and Einsteinian theories about the universe. For example, researchers can use shaped laser pulses to examine chemical physics theories, such as how energy flows in molecules.
One new way that researchers are using lasers to examine the universe is by making lasers more and more powerful. Researchers in Europe, China, and America are developing lasers reaching ten petawatts of emitted light. With these lasers, scientists can study extreme plasmas and the relationship between energy and matter.
For example, researchers in Michigan are developing ZEUS (Zettawatt-Equivalent Ultrashort pulse laser System) to study extreme states of plasma and further understand the universe’s inner workings on a subatomic level. With this research, we can better understand the universe and create more efficient particle accelerators that doctors can use for medical imaging and treatment.
China is due to complete SEL (Station of Extreme Light) in 2023 and will use it to disrupt the connection of matter and energy to prove Einstein’s theory that energy is composed of matter. A discovery like this would demonstrate how matter is interchangeable, and one could convert heat and light into matter itself. The ramifications of a discovery like this would be immense, and researchers are on the precipice of bringing those discoveries to light.
Lasers are being used in research applications in various ways, and there are many more applications that the public is not yet aware of. Scientists and researchers are continually developing and moving forward with their respective industries, and lasers help make many new developments possible. At Arroyo Instruments, we are a laser diode and temperature controller manufacturer that helps supply a lot of the necessary laser equipment needed to make this research possible.