Battle lasers

Laser weapons? This may not be as exotic as fans of Han Solo once thought, thanks to recent leaps forward in the development of a powerful free-electron laser, or FEL.

Free electron lasers have been shown to generate very large amounts of power, tunable from the microwave to the visible spectrum.

The Office of Naval Research is part of a team that is developing an electrically driven, tunable laser that could transmit infrared light for use in ship-defense systems.

The research is being performed at the Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Newport News, Virginia. Research paid off in mid-June when Jefferson scientists produced "first light" with a new 10-kilowatt FEL system.

ONR and the Jefferson team hope to use the FEL to generate 10 kW of infrared light and one kilowatt of ultraviolet light by late summer.

The mid-June success followed a demonstration in 1999 of a one-kilowatt FEL with the capacity to generate 2,100 watts of infrared light. During the two and one-half years that this laser operated, it broke all records for tunable high-average power lasers. The FEL has the capability of generating extremely short pulses, sub-picosecond pulses, (less than a billion billionth of a sec) in world record quantities. The pulses are short enough to interact with molecular bonds and result in exciting materials research and chemical synthesis.

These short pulses also give chemists the potential to dial in specific chemical reactions allowing for much more efficient (read cheaper) and less polluting synthesis of important chemicals. The device was used by more than 30 Navy, NASA, university and industry research groups for many applications, including investigation of new cost-effective methods for producing carbon nanotubes; understanding the dynamics of hydrogen defects in silicon; and investigating how proteins transport energy.

In the experiments, electrons were

Contact: Gail Cleere
Office of Naval Research

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