Scientists Can Now Inkjet-Print Lasers

Scientists have developed a technique that uses an inkjet printer to make lasers—which could lead to a future filled with cheap laser-driven displays and smart surfaces.

A team of scientists from the University of Cambridge has used liquid crystals in place of ink in order to print tiny dots onto a specially coated surface. Once everything dries, the dots become lasers.

So how the hell does that work? Well, the researchers already knew that liquid crystals—the same ones that are used in the screen you're probably reading this on—can be used to make lasers, but only if the crystals are forced to align properly. Usually, that means pouring the liquid crystal between two glass sheets, coated in molecules that force the crystals to align.

Instead, the Cambridge researchers have used inkjet printers to carefully deposit the same crystals on a surface coated with a polymer solution similar to PVA glue. Incredibly, that's enough to align the crystals in the same way as previous approaches. The finding is published in Soft Matter.

The result is large sheets covered in tiny dots which act as lasers. "You can produce hundreds and thousands of small lasers in one step, using technology not very different to the one you use to print letters and holiday photos at home," Damian Gardiner, one of the researchers, told the BBC.

In the future that means you can expect to see entire surfaces appearing—relatively cheaply—covered in tiny laser dots. Whether they're used for lighting, massive displays or even smart wallpaper that can interact with electronics devices, though, remains to be seen. [Soft Matter via BBC]

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