Chinese scientists have discovered a new way of generating laser-like light that could greatly enhance the speed of communication in everyday electronics. This new technology could easily find ready applications for improved security screening by making more efficient body-scanning machines or in the development of more advanced electronics such as smartphones. The new device that makes this possible is known as the free-electron laser.
Such lasers have existed before, but they were bulky, high-powered devices housed in large, expensive facilities that made them impractical for daily use or mass applications. The new device, however, uses only a thin piece of wire about 8 cm (3.1 inches) in length to emit laser-like light in a broad range of wavelengths for a wide variety of applications. It has been developed by scientists at the Shanghai Institute of Optics and Fine Mechanics.
Ye Tian, the co-author of the study, told the Shanghai Observer that his invention made a breakthrough by finding a way to synchronize electrons “like an honor guard team” to generate more power. To create lasers, the electrons in the atoms of optical materials such as glass, crystal, or gas must absorb energy in the form of light or electricity. When they do, this extra energy encourages the electrons to jump into a higher-energy orbit. However, this does not last long, and soon enough, the electrons need to return to their usual orbit, emitting photons along the way. In laser beams, all photons move in the same direction and have the same wavelength, which the Chinese scientists managed to recreate.
“Think of the electrons as athletes rowing a boat.” The team that can create big waves and generates more power will win the race. “The best strategy for all athletes is to row in the same direction,” Tian said.