Diamonds may be a girl's best friend, but physicists are not far behind. Researchers have succeeded in using a diamond to concentrate a flash of light into a laser beam. While this may have been done before, no one has ever done so with such brilliance. The laser is 20 times more powerful than previous diamond lasers and even has enough power to cut through steel. Talk about outshining one's competition.
The laser's strength could have far-reaching applications: It has the necessary properties for optical communication in space, for measuring coordinates by reflecting light off a satellite, and even for sweeping up space debris from Earth. For this space-sweeping job, a laser must be powerful enough to penetrate the Earth's atmosphere and still have enough energy to nudge small debris so that it burns up in the atmosphere. Fortunately, the diamond laser shines at a wavelength with a high transmission rate through the atmosphere, so it might be up for the job. All with a bit of sparkly flair.
Diamonds are an emerging material for laser beam usage, but it looks like their days of "being in the rough" are drawing to a close. As synthetic diamond technology advances, the quality of the diamonds is increasing. Synthetic diamonds are now better than what we can obtain from the ground, and it's this high-quality mineral that is essential for powerful lasers such as this one.
Diamond laser setup. Dr. Robert Williams.
"Diamond is an ancient material, yet only now many of its extraordinary properties are becoming evident. High power lasers is one such area that diamond looks like providing a major advantage," said Richard Mildren from the MQ Photonics Research Centre who worked on this research. The paper is published in Laser and Photonics Reviews.
These brilliant gems are also proving to be rather versatile. A past restriction with lasers was that it was difficult to manufacture a beam of light at every single wavelength. For example, a ruby produces a wavelength at 694.3 nanometers, which is deep red in color. Titanium-sapphire laser crystals can be chemically tuned to produce wavelengths between 650-1,100 nanometers – also red light. The diamond laser has filled in some gaps and can produce light at a wavelength of 1,240 nanometers, which was previously unattainable.
"Just as X-rays pass through flesh to enable us to see bones within a body, different colours of laser radiation can interact or be transmitted by different target materials," said lead researcher Dr. Robert Williams.
He added: "Around the time of its invention, the laser was famously labelled 'a solution in need of a problem', but now it has penetrated so many aspects of industry, science and our daily lives that the number of applications are countless. A key to unlocking many more applications of lasers will be the development of high-brightness beams at new wavelengths, and diamond is providing just that."