As fast as the speed of light

The recent announcement from scientists at the particle accelerator at CERN that they have clocked neutrinos moving faster than the speed of light has generated considerable attention in scientific circles and the popular press.

Conardmug 2011c

The recent announcement from scientists at the particle accelerator at CERN that they have clocked neutrinos moving faster than the speed of light has generated considerable attention in scientific circles and the popular press. Whatever the results of further study, in the world of lasers, the speed of light remains unchallenged but laser pulses keep getting shorter and the applications for these ultrafast laser pulses are expanding.

Recently, scientists have been experimenting with attosecond pulses and “light transients,” which will allow them to probe the behavior of electrons within atoms, as described in our cover story this issue (see page 13). Elsewhere, for more than 20 years researchers have been combining femtosecond lasers with microscopes in the course of developing multiphoton imaging systems, which may soon be available for clinical applications (see page 33). In manufacturing, pico- and femtosecond lasers are being used for processing materials, including drilling metals or cutting wafers, polymer stents, and display glass (see page 55).

The speed and control of laser pulses also has implications for developing new energy resources and for public policy. For example, fusion technology may benefit from recent work on Raman amplification in plasma, which aims to produce the highest-intensity short-pulse regime (see page 27) and could add power to the laser fusion effort.

The Silex process for laser enrichment of uranium used in fission reactors has resurfaced with a proposal from GE Nuclear to build a large nuclear-fuel production plant based on the technology. Presumed dead for several years, the process seems to have been modified to make it viable, presumably using an improved laser source, as investigated on page 18. Will the US and other nations support developing this process, or will concern about nuclear weapons proliferation and the impact of the Fukushima accident limit its future?

Conardmug 2011cW. Conard Holton
Associate Publisher/
Editor in Chief

[email protected]

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