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'Optical Fiber' Made Out of Thin Air 115

Dave Knott writes: Scientists from the University of Maryland say they have turned thin air into an "optical fiber" that can transmit and amplify light signals without the need for any cables. As described in the research, this was accomplished by generating a laser with its light split into a ring of multiple beams forming a pipe. Very short and powerful pulses from the laser are used to heat the air molecules along the beam extremely quickly. Such rapid heating produces sound waves that take about a microsecond to converge to the center of the pipe, creating a high-density area surrounded by a low-density area left behind in the wake of the laser beams. The lower density region of air surrounding the center of the air waveguide has a lower refractive index, keeping the light focused, and allowing the higher-density region (with its correspondingly higher index of refraction) to act like an optical fiber. The findings, reported in the journal Optica, have applications in long range laser communications, high-resolution topographic mapping, air pollution and climate change research, and could also be used by the military to make laser weapons.
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'Optical Fiber' Made Out of Thin Air

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  • by Crashmarik ( 635988 ) on Wednesday July 23, 2014 @03:07PM (#47517421)

    and the only ones that looked remotely practical was the laser weapon and remote sensing requiring high power high focus.

    Using lasers for freespac communications is already very practical and well solved, just look at this example [] (BTW definitely one of the better uses of NASA's budget. )

    All the other mentioned applications also have off the shelf solutions that perform exceptionally well. The weapons and high power remote sensing however while listed last seem to have the most to gain. Being able to generate a waveguide in either case solves their two big problems atmospheric distortion and the need to focus large amounts of laser energy on a small point.

  • by MondoGordo ( 2277808 ) on Wednesday July 23, 2014 @03:14PM (#47517469)
    One of the chief benefit of optical fiber is that it doesn't require LOS. All they've done here is demonstrate the capability to mimic the loss-less advantages of optical fiber without actually having a fiber ... once they can do this around corners... then maybe they've "created optical fiber out of thin air" until then not so much.
  • by Scottingham ( 2036128 ) on Wednesday July 23, 2014 @04:35PM (#47518105)
    This would be good for performing measurements on objects you wouldn't want to get that close to. Like nuclear reactors.

Did you hear that two rabbits escaped from the zoo and so far they have only recaptured 116 of them?