The Main Stream

May 1, 2014 10:39 AM by Ryan Haarer

UA researchers look to redirect lightning with lasers

TUCSON- Lightning can be extremely dangerous especially during monsoon. Researchers at the University of Arizona think they may be able to redirect lightning away from homes and power lines with the help of lasers.

Optical science researchers are using high powered lasers which leave behind a virtual plasma wire that attracts energy. That plasma wire could act as a lightning rod as it attracts energy.

"One of the main projects of this effort is to really understand how these intense laser pulses interact with air, solids, and liquids," said professor of optical science, Jerome Maloney.

The research team is looking for ways to make these laser beams last longer and go farther. The laser can only go as far as a few meters and only lasts a several femtoseconds. A femtosecond is one quadrillionth of a second.

"Lightning takes longer than the laser. And the plasma dies in a few nanoseconds," said Maik Scheller, a research assistant.

MAIK says they are testing multiple lasers at once to essentially refuel the power of the femtosecond laser. If they can extend the time and distance of this high powered laser there could be many applications.

"You could potentially sense nasty gasses or chemicals, bio hazards for example," said Maloney.

The lasers react differently to different chemicals which have different spectral fields.

"Each are like fingerprints meaning if you have a broad spectrum, this chemical interacts with the light in different ways and they usually have a unique absorption feature," said Scheller.

While still in the laboratory phase researchers hope to eventually be able to see what is floating in the atmosphere miles and miles away or better yet control lightning strikes in high traffic areas.

This study is part of a major $7.5 million research grant by the Department of Defense that includes several other research universities. Professor Maloney says these lasers would not be powerful enough to be used as a weapon but being able to detect deadly gasses could come in handy.


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