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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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