The top laser innovations that feature in this article are the ten most viewed by our global R&D network since the start of 2017. We see this engagement from industry to be an indicator of emerging innovations and applications of laser technology that are of high interest to innovation-oriented, R&D-driven companies.
Each of the top laser innovations in this article is listed on IN-PART’s matchmaking platform for university-industry collaboration. Through IN-PART you can read non-confidential summaries of each innovation posted by the Technology Transfer Office responsible for the project. If you find that the innovation is relevant to your research and product development pipeline, you can submit a request for more information via IN-PART or ask to speak with the team behind the project.
The world’s best lasers have got you covered
From healing cracks to the deposition of thin films and increasing the durability of materials, additive manufacturing using high-performance solid-state lasers is a promising technique for materials development. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), a California-based research institute funded by the US Department of Energy, is host to some of the world’s best lasers that have been put to the task of depositing materials on almost any surface.
Researchers at LLNL have developed an award-winning technology (R&D 100) that accelerates the process of coating materials onto a substrate of choice through laser-driven explosive bonding. Through a 5-step deposition process, this innovation can be used with a range of materials to deposit multiple layers and to create textured coatings. In addition, this technique can be performed at room temperature under ambient conditions.
Learn more about the first of our top laser innovations: read the full technology overview on IN-PART.
Pioneering, automated analytical systems
‘Laser ablation’ might sound like a cause of death in a Star Wars film, but in reality it’s a powerful analytical technique. When combined with additional analytical instruments, laser ablation can determine the chemical and isotopic composition of solid samples – extremely useful in sectors such as geology and forensic science.
Academics at Australian National University (ANU) have worked to integrate laser ablation technology into a fast, compact, and reliable system. In combination with inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS), this system can be applied to the analysis of minerals, thin films, and even banded samples such as coral and teeth. The custom-written software developed to read the results allows for powerful sample navigation, as well as automated sample analysis. And if that sounds too complicated, the user interface has been specifically developed to ensure other researchers can easily program an ablation run. Happy zapping!
Learn more about the second of our top laser innovations: read the full technology overview on IN-PART.
Make it rain
Rain induction and dust clearing are perhaps not what spring to mind when thinking about lasers. Yet, with droughts becoming more frequent and intense with rising global temperatures, and chemical-based rain induction techniques raising questions about safety, the application of lasers to solve these issues is gathering traction.
Researchers at City University New York are exploring the use of supercontinuum, ultra-high power laser beams, directed at cloud formations to ionize molecules within the air to trigger rain formation. Additionally, the researchers are asking if specialized laser beams can be used to generate particle traps that facilitate the movement of particle contaminants from one region to another.
Learn more about the third of our top laser innovations: read the full technology overview on IN-PART.
Miniaturized integrated gas-sensing
Advances in laser technology have led to vast improvements in molecular sensing, with applications ranging from environmental monitoring to security and defence. However, the in-situ use of such technology has often been limited by size and cost.
Now, researchers at the Science & Technology Facilities Council (STFC) in the UK are working on a portable and compact solution. By inscribing hollow waveguides to direct the laser path, in conjunction with additional optical components, this technology provides a robust, highly-sensitive, ultra-compact gas sensor for use in the field, with the potential for development into a handheld device. The STFC researchers are looking for partners to help commercialize this laser innovation and reach its full potential.
Learn more about the fourth of our top laser innovations: read the full technology overview on IN-PART.
Securely joining metals and resins
Joining dissimilar materials can be tricky due to incompatible chemical and mechanical properties. Since the majority of manufactured products are built out of individual components, the properties of which can vary drastically, the question of how to join them securely is relevant to many industries.
A team of researchers at Osaka University have developed a method that uses a yttrium-aluminium-garnet (YAG) laser to join metals and thermoplastic resins. Their technique joins the two materials with both physical and chemical bonds, creating a secure joint with a high shear strength. This new method can be used to join a range of materials, such as iron and aluminium, and can be applied in the manufacturing of medical devices, electronics, aerospace, and automotive industries, to name a few.
Learn more about the fifth of top laser innovations: read the full technology overview on IN-PART.
To produce flexible circuits for electronics and biosensors, graphene ink can be printed onto materials with inkjet printers. However, printed graphene produced this way needs treating with specialised chemicals and high temperatures to improve its electrical conductivity and performance, which often degrade fragile printing surfaces.
Engineers at Iowa State University have developed a new graphene ink formulation and combined it with a laser post-annealing process to produce printed graphene with a resistance lower than previously reported in the scientific literature. This innovation uses pulsed lasers to produce better performing printed graphene with improved electrical conductivity, without damaging the printing surfaces, offering a route to commercialise and scale-up low-cost printed graphene electronics.
Learn more about the sixth of our top laser innovations: read the full technology overview on IN-PART.
Truly homogeneous laser beams
Both commercially and scientifically, lasers are widely used as a source of illumination (microscopy, holography, projection, welding, and laser surgery). However, uniform illumination is notoriously difficult to achieve due to unwanted reflections in the laser optics. To get around this issue, manufacturers often deploy beam homogenisers, but the mechanical nature of these components means that they take time to have an effect. Often, this is longer than the exposure times needed for successful application.
To remedy this, scientists at the University of Birmingham have developed a method to optimise laser scrambling and to homogenise laser beams at significantly higher speeds than existing methods, with reduced laser pattern granularity.
Learn more about the seventh of our top laser innovations: read the full technology overview on IN-PART.
Reducing congestion on the information highway
As our homes get smarter and our devices more powerful, our data infrastructure must evolve to keep up with our insatiable need for speed. Vital clicks and commands are carried around the world by light beams bouncing along the inside of fibre optic cables. Previous attempts to minimize power dissipation in optoelectronics using vertical cavity surface-emitting lasers (VCSELs) have resulted in undesirable side effects such as optical scattering and higher losses.
Now, researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara have designed a novel VCSEL that minimizes side effects by using a thicker lens aperture with a tapered tip. This innovative design limits the ways in which the light beam can bounce around, improving the efficiency and speed of many applications that rely on fibre optics, such as high-speed sensing, data centres, and communications.
Learn more about the eight of our top laser innovations: read the full technology overview on IN-PART.
Laser-guided UAV landing
Unpiloted aerial vehicles (UAVs), including drones, were predominantly used for military operations. Now, their commercial use is widespread for purposes that range from agriculture to disaster aid, shipping, construction, and aerial photography. However, landing a UAV on ground that hasn’t been surveyed, without skilled human guidance, is difficult. Complex sensor systems that are used for larger aircraft aren’t practical or cost effective for commercial UAVs.
To address this problem, a team of researchers at the University of Kansas have developed an altimeter that uses laser illuminators coupled with digital imaging to precisely map multiple points on a terrain. The altitude and attitude of a UAV can be determined in real-time with this technology, which is lighter and less expensive than existing sensor systems. This would allow UAV landing where it isn’t possible or practical to rely on a communication link to a trained remote pilot.
Learn more about the ninth of our top laser innovations: read the full technology overview on IN-PART.
Accelerated laser manufacturing
Although lasers are widely used to machine and fabricate materials, there is often only a single laser beam that can be relied upon at one time during the process. Multiple parallelised laser beams have been implemented before to increase the speed of fabrication. However, these techniques compromise independent beam control and chromatic accuracy for a higher number of focal spots.
A team of researchers at the University of Oxford have come up with a way to overcome the problem of laser control in laser manufacturing. Their method combines holographic beam shaping and multiple focal spot generation to create independently controlled laser focal spots that increase the versatility and speed of the lasers. Combining microlens arrays and holographic methods to generate individually controlled multiple focal spots will allow for the technology to be applied in many fields that utilise adaptive control of light fields.
Learn more about the tenth of our top laser innovations: read the full technology overview on IN-PART.
Technology features written by Sayali (1), Marianna (2), Jenny (3 & 4), Eve (5, 7 & 10), Georgia (6), Emma (8), and Sharon (9). Editing and introduction by Alex.
Copyrights reserved unless otherwise agreed – IN-PART Publishing Ltd., 2018
To ensure science benefits society, we unlock innovation from research by connecting academia and industry through an intelligent matchmaking platform.
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Image attribution & credit (in order of appearance):
Kevin Doncaster, Laser, Flickr, CC BY 2.0; Nick Hubbard, Flickr, CC BY 2.0; MaxPixel-CC0; WerbeFabrik, Pixabay, CC0; astroshots42, Flickr, CC BY 2.0; Creativity103, Flickr, CC BY 2.0; Andrew FastLizard4 Adams, Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0; Jeff Keyser, Flickr, CC BY 2.0; U.S. Air Force Photo/Lt. Col. Leslie Pratt, Wikicommons, CC0; SD-Pictures, Pixabay, CC0