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High-power Lasers

The invention of the laser 50 years ago has led to the latest generation of devices, with power bursts thousands of times that of the nation’s entire electrical grid

Todd Ditmire

2010-09DitmireF1.jpgClick to Enlarge ImageOn the 50th anniversary of the invention of the laser, Todd Ditmire, a physicist at UT Austin, details how far lasers have come since their first firing. Ditmire specifically explores high-power lasers, which are used to study phenomenon as diverse as nuclear fusion for energy research, high-speed chemical reactions, and the properties of plasmas that occur in remote astrophysical objects. High-power lasers utilize the fact that shorter light pulses basically compress the peak power of the light; pulses that last a tiny fraction of a second can now produce a brief instant of power that is thousands of time greater than the entire output of the U.S. electrical grid. Ditmire explains the technological advances in source materials, pulse compression and power amplification that have allowed lasers to develop to this point, and which will soon push them to even higher levels of power.

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