Next generation of lasers

Wednesday 9 May 2007

Scientists at the University of St Andrews are one step closer to creating a new generation of remotely-controllable lasers.

Physicists Professor Wilson Sibbet and Dr Tom Brown have been awarded £3.5 million to work on the next generation of ultrafast laser technology. The research has the potential to affect every industry and field that uses lasers.

Using pulses of light lasting as little as a few billionths of a millionth of a second, ultrafast lasers have the potential to be used in applications which range widely from eye surgery to high- speed communications.

Professor Wilson Sibbet and Dr Tom Brown, of the University’s School of Physics and Astronomy, have received the EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council) funding alongside the Universities of Cambridge and Strathclyde.

Dr Brown said, “These new lasers will be smaller and more easy to control for non-optics-experts. We will work with major international companies and the eventual end users of the lasers to ensure that, when completed, they can be rapidly deployed in ‘real world’ applications.”

The basic concepts of lasers have been understood for nearly forty years, but it was not possible to design practical ultrafast lasers until the St Andrews Laser Group demonstrated a breakthrough technique in 1989. These versatile lasers have since made a significant impact on science and technology around the world, however they remain too big, too complicated, too inefficient and too expensive for widespread implementation.

The new approach will put into practice modular designs and constructions – meaning that lasers built for one application can be easily transferred to another application that also requires ultrafast light pulses.

One such application will be gene- therapy. The new lasers’ pulses should be intense and fast enough to pierce a hole in the surface of a cell in order to introduce drugs or therapeutic DNA. The laser can then be tuned to pick up and transport the cell without damaging it. The new technology will even allow such complex tasks to be undertaken via remote control.

“The development of lasers using our modular designs will lead to a new class of device that has the potential to broaden the range of applications. We intend to show that new lasers, which are often though of as research toys, can be deployed rapidly across many different sectors extending from advanced techniques in photomedicine to powering the data transmission for the next generations of the internet,” continued Dr Brown.




Dr Tom Brown, [email protected], tel: 01334 463129

Professor Wilson Sibbett, ws@st-, tel: 01334 463100



Issued by Press Office, University of St Andrews

Contact Gayle Cook on 01334 467227 / 462529, gec3@st-

Ref: next generation 100507

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