Reinventing the laser

High-power lasers have many potential applications: from medical imaging to manufacturing, shooting down drones or space junk, or powering deep space probes. But current laser technologies overheat at high power.

Associate Professor Rich Mildren and his team have developed a technique to make diamond lasers that, in theory, have extraordinary power range. Five years ago, their lasers were just a few watts in power. Now they’ve reached 400 watts, close to the limit for comparable conventional lasers.

Their calculations suggest that their diamond laser technology could handle over a thousand times the current power. They’ve also shown that they can use diamond to focus multiple laser beams into a single beam. And they can create almost any frequency of light.

Diamond is an outstanding optical material and exceptionally good at dissipating heat. But it’s not very good at generating a laser beam as its dense structure makes it difficult to introduce the impurity additives normally needed to amplify light. Until now.

Rich discovered that he could use light scattering (the Raman effect). When light shines on the diamond crystals, some of it is scattered at a single frequency. His team has developed a suite of techniques to enhance this effect in diamonds to create their high-power lasers.

The first applications of Rich’s work are on their way. UK company M Squared Lasers has licenced the technology to create lasers for quantum computing and biological imaging.

US and Australian defence researchers are major investors in the research, which has the potential to be used to tackle drones, boat swarms, and missiles.

Banner image credit: Chris Stacey