Fundamental elements

Feb. 1, 2013
The potential diplomatic and economic clashes over the availability of rare earths in 2010—along with a speculative bubble—have mostly subsided.
Conard Holton2

The potential diplomatic and economic clashes over the availability of rare earths in 2010—along with a speculative bubble—have mostly subsided. The photonics community is left with a sense of vulnerability and appreciation for just how critical these chemical elements are to our technologies and products. It's been a lesson in the risks and rewards of globalization and the challenges posed by "high technology" to the environment and health. Many of these issues are captured by senior editor Gail Overton in her cover story (page 31) on the supply of rare earths and other chemical elements routinely used in semiconductor, photovoltaic, and photodetector devices, and to power solid-state and fiber lasers.

Further illustrating the value of rare-earth elements, we have an article in this issue on a 2 μm, thulium-doped fiber laser that, in one configuration, can achieve 10 kW peak power (see page 52). Detectors rely on a variety of other elements ranging from silicon in CCD and CMOS sensors—which can now be used in color night vision according to one article (see page 38)—to indium/arsenide and gallium/antimonide, which can help combine both shortwave and midwave infrared imaging on one device according to another article (see page 24).

Exploring and harnessing the elementary properties of the universe is the task of the National Ignition Facility in Livermore, CA. In his article on page 43, contributing editor Jeff Hecht brings us up to date on the exceptional performance NIF has achieved, exceeding design specifications but still failing to ignite nuclear fusion in cryogenic targets made of deuterium and tritium.

Our exploration of the elements takes an extraterrestrial twist when Roger Wiens from Los Alamos National Laboratory delivers a webcast on the Curiosity rover and its on-board laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) system known as ChemCam, which is seeking out geological materials that might indicate life has existed on Mars. You can listen to the live webcast on March 8 or the archived version on our web site.

About the Author

Conard Holton | Editor at Large

Conard Holton has 25 years of science and technology editing and writing experience. He was formerly a staff member and consultant for government agencies such as the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and the International Atomic Energy Agency, and engineering companies such as Bechtel. He joined Laser Focus World in 1997 as senior editor, becoming editor in chief of WDM Solutions, which he founded in 1999. In 2003 he joined Vision Systems Design as editor in chief, while continuing as contributing editor at Laser Focus World. Conard became editor in chief of Laser Focus World in August 2011, a role in which he served through August 2018. He then served as Editor at Large for Laser Focus World and Co-Chair of the Lasers & Photonics Marketplace Seminar from August 2018 through January 2022. He received his B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania, with additional studies at the Colorado School of Mines and Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

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