Tabletop laser enriches isotopes

Nov. 8, 1999
Materials made from isotopically pure elements have medical, industrial, and other uses.

Materials made from isotopically pure elements have medical, industrial, and other uses. The production of bulk quantities of isotopes has traditionally been left to government facilities, where large pieces of sometimes-antiquated equipment perform the task slowly and expensively. Now, researchers at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, MI) have enriched isotopes of gallium, boron, and other elements using an ultrafast tabletop Ti:sapphire laser. Although the amount of isotopic matter produced thus far is small, so is the size of the equipment needed to produce it.

The discovery of the technique was accidental, according to Peter Pronko, research scientist. Aided by an instrument called a sector-field electrostatic analyzer, the group was studying the ion plumes given off when a femtosecond laser ablates material in a vacuum. The analyzer produces a time-of-flight spectrum containing components separated by ionic charge and isotopic mass. "The isotope ratios were way off," says Pronko.

About the Author

John Wallace | Senior Technical Editor (1998-2022)

John Wallace was with Laser Focus World for nearly 25 years, retiring in late June 2022. He obtained a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering and physics at Rutgers University and a master's in optical engineering at the University of Rochester. Before becoming an editor, John worked as an engineer at RCA, Exxon, Eastman Kodak, and GCA Corporation.

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