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Photonics West: Monday (2)

26 Jan 2005

The technical conferences get off to a flying start with the LASE hot-topics session.

Progress at NIF
First up was keynote speaker Edward Moses from the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. Moses described the recent progress and challenges in constructing the stadium-sized ultraviolet-laser facility. Due for completion in 2008, the 500 Terawatt system will feature 192 beams and a 10 m diameter target chamber that will be able to simulate extreme astrophysical conditions. As Moses explained to a packed audience, NIF will require around 10,000 flashlamps (each measuring 2m in length) to optically pump the facility – equivalent to a light source that is an incredible 18 km long.

A new take on optical films
Hot-topic speaker Frank Träger from the University of Kassel, Germany, discussed a new technique for making optical films that relies on molecular self-assembly. According to Träger, it is often the flexibility of molecules that causes films to become uneven and deliver poor optical performance. To combat this, he and his team are developing films based on rigid tripod-ligand molecules. Initial results suggest that these highly ordered structures give reproducible films that may be ideal for lithography resists.

Better inkjet printers
A remote multimedia link came to the rescue of Panasonic Boston Laboratory’s Xinbing Liu who was stranded on east coast due to the adverse weather and unable to present in person. He revealed that despite only entering the inkjet printer business recently, Panasonic had made rapid progress in using lasers to manufacture high-quality ink nozzles. Liu and his colleagues use a diffractive beam splitter to create a set of parallel laser beams that machine many nozzle holes simultaneously. The beam line features a piezoelectric mirror which can be scanned to taper the shape of the nozzle hole. The finished print head offers 600 dpi resolution at industrial print speeds of 40 m per minute.

Fiber laser challenges
David Payne from the University of Southampton, UK took the penultimate spot, reflecting on the future of the fiber laser as it celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. Payne felt that it was commercialization rather than record-breaking that presented the biggest challenge. “The single fiber laser will reach 10 kW sooner than you think,” he said. “The real battleground is going to be the exploitation of this technology.”

Glass processing
Finishing the session, Alan Hunt from the University of Michigan turned to the laser nanomachining of glass. Offering more freedom than techniques such as focused ion-beam processing, Hunt showed beautiful images of 3D channels machined in Corning glass. He said that the trick to getting good results was to immerse the glass in a liquid during the laser machining. The bubbles resulting from the process conveniently carry away any debris to leave glass channels that are perfectly clean and ideal for transporting chemicals.

James Tyrrell is reporter on Optics.org and Opto & Laser Europe magazine.

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