Self-Organizing Lasers Mimic Living Systems To Achieve Novel Versatility

This new breakthrough paves the way for more adaptable laser technology. 


Dr. Alfredo Carpineti

Senior Staff Writer & Space Correspondent

clockJul 14 2022, 15:00 UTC
Hundreds of microparticles cluster around a Janus particle  which appears larger and darker
Microparticles cluster around a Janus particle. Image Credit: Imperial College London

New research has brought the adaptability of biological systems to lasers. A team of researchers in London UK, have developed a laser that can respond to the environment, by creating a self-organizing programmable laser.

As reported in Nature Physics, the team started with a colloidal solution – a mixture where particles are suspended in a fluid. The particles in question are called Janus particles – commonly used microparticles whose surface has two or more distinct properties, named after the two-faced god of Roman lore.


In this work, the Janus particle had one side coated in light absorbing material and it was suspended in a liquid with other microparticles that have the ability to lase, amplify light, and produce laser light. The system worked in steps. The Janus particle was activated by shining an external laser on it. The other microparticles would then gather around it and emit laser light.

By changing the intensity of the external laser, the microparticle laser can be turned off and on. It can be moved in space by focusing on different Janus particles. Janus particles can also collaborate so they can build clusters with adaptable shape and laser intensity, beyond the ability of simply adding two lasers together.

“Lasers, which power most of our technologies, are designed from crystalline materials to have precise and static properties. We asked ourselves if we could create a laser with the ability to blend structure and functionality, to reconfigure itself and cooperate like biological materials do,” co-lead author Professor Riccardo Sapienza, from the Department of Physics at Imperial College London, said in a statement


“Our laser system can reconfigure and cooperate, thus enabling a first step towards emulating the ever-evolving relationship between structure and functionality typical of living materials.”

Having demonstrated a flexible laser setup, the team is now looking into ways to improve its autonomous behavior even further. One possible application they suggest is next-generation electronic ink for smart displays.

“Nowadays, lasers are used as a matter of course in medicine, telecommunications, and also in industrial production. Embodying lasers with life-like properties will enable the development of robust, autonomous, and durable next-generation materials and devices for sensing applications, non-conventional computing, novel light sources and displays,” co-lead author Dr Giorgio Volpe, from the Department of Chemistry at University College London, concluded.

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