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Polarition Beam Could Revolutionize "Lasers"

Jun 05, 2014 04:01 PM EDT

Researchers have demonstrated a way to make power-efficient laser-like beams without using light. These beams, made with electrical current, reportedly use 1,000 times less power than pure light beams, and function efficiently even at room temperature.

"This is big," said Pallab Bhattacharya, lead investigator and designer of the new system. "For the past 50 years, we have relied on lasers to make coherent light and now we have something else based on a totally new principle."

According to a University of Michigan press release, this new system certainly isn't the first electrically fueled laser. The most commonly seen type of laser - the semiconductor diode - was crafted back in the early 1960s, but was limited in its use due to its low power and high energy cost.

This is why typical "LASER" models - an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation - are still used in research, even though high-powered models fueled with light have to be used in a below zero environment for optimal results.

However, both light and eclectically fueled beams have one drawback in common - they both cost a significant amount of power to elevate electrons to such a state that they can then release pent up light, converting a current or light into a concentrated beam.

Bhattacharya's system ignores this traditional process entirely, using "polarition" instead. According to the release, a polariton is part light and part matter - allowing researchers to harness these particles to emit intense light with minimal energy cost. In fact, the new laser reportedly uses 1,000 times less power than semiconductor diode lasers.

"We're thrilled," said Thomas Frost, an engineer who worked on the project. "This is the first really practical polariton laser that could be used on chip for real applications."

According to the researchers, low cost concentrated beams could one day be used to replace wire connections in computers, increasing the potential computer chip designs, which are currently limited by wiring and silicon.

A study detailing this accomplishment will be published online in Physical Review Letters on June 10. It is recommended that these findings be viewed as preliminary until official publication.

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