In a groundbreaking collaborative effort, scientists from various esteemed institutes across Germany have unveiled an innovative technique for deflecting laser beams using sound waves alone. This pioneering method, revealed in a recent press release, holds immense promise for advancing scientific research and applications reliant on high-intensity lasers.
In today’s scientific landscape, extremely potent laser beams are indispensable tools, extensively used in critical research endeavors. Whether it’s investigating subatomic particles within particle accelerators or striving to replicate nuclear fusion on Earth, high-intensity lasers play a pivotal role in these investigations.
Traditionally, optical components like lenses, prisms, and mirrors have been utilized to direct these intense beams. However, as the laser beam intensities have surged, the limitations of these objects have become increasingly evident. These lasers not only cause damage to these components but also compromise their structural integrity, interfering with experimental setups.
To circumvent these challenges, a consortium of researchers from renowned institutions, including the Technical University of Darmstadt, Aalen University of Applied Sciences, Universität Hamburg, Inoson GmbH in St. Ingbert, the Helmholtz Institute Jena, and Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY), embarked on a quest to deflect laser beams without any material contact. Their ingenious idea was to create an invisible grating made of air, which would remain impervious to powerful lasers and preserve the quality of the beam.
The researchers achieved this feat by employing specialized loudspeakers to generate an optical grating using dense and sparse areas of air. Similar to how varying air density affects light bending in Earth’s atmosphere, the density variations in the grating were harnessed to bend the laser beams. This technique, termed deflecting light by diffraction grating, offers far more precise control of laser light compared to traditional deflection methods.
In their initial experiments utilizing a laser with a peak output of an astounding 20 gigawatts, equivalent to the power emitted by two billion LED bulbs, the researchers achieved a deflection efficiency of 50 percent. This breakthrough holds the potential to revolutionize high-energy experiments at particle accelerators and fusion energy facilities, where redirecting the entire beam is paramount.
The researchers believe that with increased sound intensity levels, achievable by amplifying the sound to about 140 decibels in the ultrasound range, further advancements can be realized. Christoph Heyl, a lead scientist at DESY, highlighted the prospects of this research as a significant step towards contactless light control and its potential extension to diverse applications.
This pioneering research, recently published in the esteemed journal Nature Photonics, offers a glimpse into a future where sound waves might serve as a potent tool for steering and controlling high-power lasers, fostering new realms of scientific exploration and technological innovation.