The Biggest, Best and Brightest Lasers
There is always a bit of competition when it comes to manufacturing and the laser making industry is no different. Who can make the biggest? Who can make the sharpest? These are the questions that drive progress and bring us even better machines to
play work with.
At Subcon, we are incredibly proud of the laser cutting machines we use. They provide our clients with a speedy, efficient and, most importantly, accurate manufacturing process which brings costs down dramatically compared to other methods. But, it has to be said, that when a new laser comes to town, we can’t help but notice.
The Most Powerful Constant Laser
The Laser for Fast Ignition Experiments, or LFEX laser, creates a truly incredible laser beam. It peaks with the power of 2 petawatts or – to give the full effect – 2,000 trillion watts. Even though this amount of power can only be sustained for a short duration of around a trillionth of a second (a picosecond), we are well impressed by these astronomically high numbers.
To illustrate just how powerful this is, IFLSCIENCE! compares the laser to the power of all the solar energy that falls on London concentrated on a surface as wide as a human hair for a trillionth of a second.
The Most Powerful Pulse Laser
Britain’s Central Laser Facility (CLF) and HiLASE (High average power pulsed laser), a Czech state research and development project have joined together to build a new ‘super laser’. The scientists have nicknamed their laser, DiPOLE 100, Bivoj after the legendary Czech hero. With an average power output of 1,000 watts, it is claimed to be 10 times more powerful than any other laser of its kind. So, like Bivoj, this laser really packs a punch!
While it may not be the 2,000 trillion watts of the LFEX, this is certainly impressive because it can fire laser beams many times over, rather than just the once. In fact, the teams involved say, ‘in mid-December 2016, it achieved its full design performance, operating at an output energy of 110 J per pulse at 10 Hz (1 kW) for over 1 hour without operator intervention.’
The Most Laser Beams at Once
The National Ignition Facility or NIF is, according to its website, ‘the world’s largest and most energetic laser facility ever built. NIF is also the most precise and reproducible laser as well as the largest optical instrument.’
This already sounds impressive but here are a few numbers to really blow you away:
- NIF is about the size of a sports stadium and could fit 3 football fields inside
- This space houses a giant laser that has almost 40,000 optics
- These optics guide, reflect, amplify and focus 192 laser beams
- The fusion target for all of this power is the size of a pencil eraser
With this amount of power and precision, the scientists here can create ‘extreme states of matter’. They can produce temperatures of over 100 million degrees celsius and pressure exceeding 100 billion times the Earth’s atmosphere.
Such intensity is allowing the scientists to pursue the ultimate goal in nuclear energy: a self-sustaining fusion reaction. Nuclear fusion has, so far, not been achieved because to fuse two elements takes a significant amount of energy. We know it is possible because nuclear fusion is the process by which stars are formed.
Nuclear fission is the type of nuclear reaction we currently use to produce energy. This method splits heavy atoms, like uranium, to create two lighter elements and, in the process, surplus energy. Nuclear fusion is the opposite of this process, fusing two lighter elements together to create surplus energy.
For a more in-depth explanation you can visit their page: What is Fusion?
The Sharpest Laser
Most kinds of lasers have a line width frequency of a few kilohertz to a few megahertz. This is because, while in ideal conditions, lasers are made up of photons at a single frequency but in normal imperfect conditions the laser actually fluctuates a little bit.
Knowing this, a group of true perfectionists have been working on creating the world’s sharpest laser with a line width frequency of a mere 10 millihertz that can last for 11 seconds before the light waves get out of sync.
11 seconds may sound very small, but this is the world of lasers. By the time 11 seconds has passed, the laser will have travelled approximately 3.3 million kilometers. This is 500 times the length of the Amazon, 350 times as long as the Great Wall of China or nearly 10 times the distance between the Earth and the Moon.
That 11 seconds doesn’t seem such a snip now, does it?!
Even more impressive, though, is the team’s ability to fix the mirrors at either end of the resonator in order to achieve this 11 seconds of (almost) perfection. The scientists cooled the silicon to -150°c in order to reduce any fluctuations to a range of 10 attometres. In case you were wondering just how miniscule this is, it’s no more than a ten-millionth of the diameter of a hydrogen atom.
Why keep experimenting?
Apart from natural curiosity, competitive natures and the incredible excitement of creating something bigger and brighter than what has gone before, laser experiments are leading us to some interesting places.
The sharpest laser brings with it the possibility of even greater precision for time, a vital factor in studying the smallest things in our universe. The NIF project could bring us clean energy as well as a greater understanding of the processes that form stars and other celestial bodies. Achieving powerful constant and pulsing lasers will similarly bring scientists further opportunities to study and break through problems such as how the Big Bang was triggered and further research into particles without having to design and build huge structures like CERN.
Lasers hold a lot of potential for breaking open the secrets of our universe. All we have to do is keep trying.