Star Wars “superlaser”: from fiction to science

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Apr 7, 2017, 8:30 PM EDT

Remember that Death Star laser that harnessed the power of multiple lasers and channeled it into one lethal beam to target and take down the enemy? It’s not going to stay in the realm of Star Wars for long.

The “superlaser” is being brought to life by researchers at Macquarie University, who have outdone Darth by using diamond to create a method for multiplying laser power, making the Dark Lord’s weapon a possibility that is no longer far, far away—and it isn’t necessarily meant to be a destructive force.

Never mind the explosive power Vader would have wanted to blow up Rebel spacecraft; the property most critical to lasers is its quality, known in physics jargon as coherence. We need the Force of HQ lasers with optimal brightness and beams. They can be critical to applications that range from defense (think advanced drones and missiles), to processing materials, to environmental and remote sensing. They can even help mitigate the growing space junk problem that poses a threat to Earth orbiters like the International Space Station.

Making such lasers a reality still seemed like sci-fi when the most scientists could do to boost beam brightness was use another laser or “laser converter” to convert the original beam, which would lose a significant amount of power by the end of the process. Using the new process, such beam distortion is avoided by using an ultra-pure diamond crystal with multiple intense beams that converge as they pass through the diamond. That transfers their power into a particular direction with (pun intended) laser accuracy.

A very sci-fi visual of the conversion process.


"This discovery is technologically important as laser researchers are struggling with increasing power beyond a certain level due to the large challenges in handling the large heat build-up,” explained team lead Dr. Aaron McKay, who is also the co-author on a paper recently published in the journal Laser and Photonics Reviews. “Combining beams from multiple lasers is one of the most promising ways to substantially raise the power barrier."

The conversion process, aka stimulated Raman scattering, has been studied in depth by the Macquarie team for years. Diamond also has nearly supernatural powers when it comes to dissipating heat super-fast. Conversion happens in record time, resulting in an output beam whose brightness is 50% more intense than the input beam. Not to mention that, in an even more sci-fi turn, diamond beam combining actually changes the color of the beam, something that could have been useful to the Dark Side by baffling rogue aliens. In this universe, it makes high-powered lasers safe for human eyes by converting them to bright beams in the eye-safe region of the infrared spectrum.

"Diamond is a very exciting laser material," McKay said optimistically. "Its properties in so many aspects are so much better than other materials that there are likely to be massive opportunities for greatly improving laser capability."

Does this mean we could see our very own Death Star? Possibly something much less destructive, and infinitely more amazing.