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Power Science Technology

U of MI Produces Strongest Laser Ever 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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U of MI Produces Strongest Laser Ever

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  • by NitroWolf ( 72977 ) on Sunday February 17, 2008 @05:53AM (#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:Cool (Score:5, Interesting)

    by RDW ( 41497 ) on Sunday February 17, 2008 @06:26AM (#22452058)
    I think the University of Michigan researchers have a rather different weapons platform in mind:

    http://media.www.michigandaily.com/media/storage/paper851/news/2006/02/20/Science/Sharks.The.Initial.Frontier-1620047.shtml [michigandaily.com]

  • by JohnFluxx ( 413620 ) on Sunday February 17, 2008 @07:24AM (#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.
  • 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.
  • by battamer ( 846008 ) on Sunday February 17, 2008 @07:38AM (#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:In the universe? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by TropicalCoder ( 898500 ) on Sunday February 17, 2008 @10:34AM (#22453094) Homepage Journal

    Anyway, what can it do?

    Discussion so far seems to have missed one little line, where they say it may be powerful enough to boil the vacuum of space, and perhaps bring virtual particles into existence. Think about that for a minute - matter from nothing... kind'a scary, isn't it? Like in those super particle accelerators where they just might end up creating microscopic black holes. So one of these little black holes would start sucking in matter and not stop until the whole world is consumed. Well there we go - this laser could be the antidote for that. We have all these particles popping into existence over there at the that university with the laser, and a little black hole on the other side of the ocean sucking up matter, and an infinite loop between creating and destroying and us all caught in the middle. I think physics is getting into dangerous territory.

APL hackers do it in the quad.