The venerable laser officially turns 50 today. Its inaugural demonstration at the Hughes Research Labs has led to many things, from black hole discovery to bar codes to DVDs, but scientists promise there's plenty more left to discover. Pew pew!
Indeed, from space exploration to the inner workings of the human body and DNA, there appears to be much work left to do for the ol' laser.
Take energy, for example. Ever since "light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation" was first demonstrated on May 16, 1960 (patent granted March 1960) there was talk of fusion and how someday the technology might lead to an almost inexhaustible supply of clean energy. Even so, only today are scientists finally able to test these theories.
And test they will. In the U.S., for example, the National Ignition Facility is all but ready to recreate a miniature sun using 192 laser beams and a hydrogen fuel pellet. If all goes according to plan, the lasers will fuse the hydrogen to make helium. The act will create an incredible amount of energy, just like the Sun does every second in its core, which will be nice and hopeful considering where we currently get most of our energy today.
The medical field could get a healthy dose of the pew pew in the near future too, especially oncology.
Already "cyberknives" and radiation treatments are the norm, but Dr. Kate Lancaster, from the UK's Central Laser Facility, believes we can fine tune lasers to be even more effective inside the human body:
"At the moment, with the way we treat cancer with radiation, photons travel into the body and they deposit energy in healthy tissue as well as at the cancer site. Whereas when protons and ions travel into the body, they will deposit most of their energy only at the very end of their range. So we can use lasers to tune protons to deposit their energy just within the tumour site."
Then there's time. Attoseconds, to be precise, which is the almost incomprehensible measure of time we would use see matter moving at the atomic scale. Lasers will get us there. Until then, I'm going to be throwing a random DVD into my DVD player to celebrate. [BBC]