August/September 2012

FEATURE

Quick as a flash

Laser induced lightning has been perfected by the US military to create a weapon that will detonate unexploded ordnance and enemy vehicles.

While the technical challenges of an adequate mobile power supply, synchronising the laser with the high voltage that is applied and making the system rugged enough for battlefield use remain, the US Army, which funded the work, has been happy with the outcome.

FEATURE

Solar wind of change

Solar power is plentiful and promises endless amounts of energy from our solar system’s Sun that should burn for many more billions of years, but the road to this future of power through light harvesting that is too cheap to meter is proving harder than anyone expected.

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Guiding light

Standard optical fibre, the type now widely used in telecoms, is pretty simple in terms of design, consisting of a glass silica core surrounded by cladding material with a lower index of refraction. It is the mainstay for fibre optic communication and it hasn’t changed a great deal over the last 40 years, but there are newer fibre optic designs available, so-called microstructured fibres or photonic crystal fibres (PCFs), where light is guided through a core, solid or potentially hollow, by a cladding region containing a lattice of air holes.

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Crystal power

Melting rare earth mineral powder into pots of molten goo to grow crystals for lasers has been a well understood process for decades, but now a supply chain dominated by China and the need to find alternate, more energy efficient processes is driving the industry to radical change.

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Design for light

Lambda Research is celebrating its 20-year anniversary this month, having been founded in August 1992 by Edward Freniere and a business partner. Having studied physics and programming at university, Freniere spent the early part of his career working as an optical engineer at various defence contractors. His first job involved stray light analysis using Guerap (General Unwanted Energy Rejection Analysis Program) software, which was in its infancy at the time.