New Soliton Laser Pulse Delivers High Energy in Very Small Bursts

New laser pulses give high energy in the space of a trillionth of a second, making eye and heart surgery simpler than before.
Fabienne Lang

The future of heart and eye surgery could be improved thanks to a new type of laser that scientists have developed. The method delivers high amounts of energy in extremely short bursts of time, which could potentially assist the engineering of delicate materials in surgery. 

This new laser soliton was developed by scientists at the University of Sydney Institute of Photonics and Optical Science.

Lasers nowadays can do some pretty impressive things, this new addition is no exception.

The findings were published in Nature Photonics.


A trillionth of a second

"This laser has the property that as its pulse duration decreases to less than a trillionth of a second, its energy could go through the roof," explained Professor Martijn de Sterke, Director of the University of Sydney Institute of Photonics and Optical Science.

"This makes them ideal candidates for the processing of materials that require short, powerful pulses. One application could be in corneal surgery, which relies on gently removing material from the eye. This requires strong, short light pulses that do not heat and damage the surface."

New Soliton Laser Pulse Delivers High Energy in Very Small Bursts
Dr. Antoine Runge in a lab at the School of Physics at the University of Sydney, Source: Louise Cooper/University of Sydney

The scientists working on the project were able to come up with the new design by using a simple laser technology that's usually used in telecommunications, metrology, and spectroscopy. These lasers use what's called soliton waves — waves of light that keep their shape even at a long distance. 

"The fact that soliton waves in light maintain their shape means they are excellent for a wide range of applications, including telecommunications and spectrometry," said lead author Dr. Antoine Runge from the School of Physics at the University of Sydney. 

Runge continued "However, while lasers producing these solitons are simple to make, they do not pack much punch. A completely different - and expensive - physical system is required to produce the high-energy optical pulses used in manufacturing."

Co-author of the study, Dr. Andrea Blanco-Redondo said, "Our results have the potential to make soliton lasers useful for biomedical applications."

Until now, these types of lasers could not deliver enough energy. By establishing the proof of principle that soliton lasers can be applied in higher energetic ways opens many doors to make more powerful soliton lasers in the future, something that could prove very useful in eye and heart surgery. 

Professor De Sterke said: "We hope this type of laser can open a new way to apply laser light when we need high peak energy but where the base material is not damaged."

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