Yesterday the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) announced the development of the world’s first digital laser. A team headed by Sandile Ngcobo (a University of Kwazulu Natal PhD candidate and a researcher at the laser centre) are credited for making this discovery after more than 2 years of gruelling research. This discovery could have huge implications in the health, communications and manufacturing sectors.
According to Tech Central researchers at the CSIR have created the means for controlling a laser beam’s shape digitally. The digital laser uses a spatial light modulator (an object that imposes some form of spatially varying modulation on a beam of light) and it has a liquid crystal display (LCD) that can be digitally addressed (or pointed) with grayscale images that alter the frequency of the laser beam.
This is a huge scientific breakthrough. Traditionally lasers are made up of mirrors, light and a casing which contains crystal or glass. The material that’s used changes the frequency of the light to create a laser beam and the shape of the beam is left uncontrolled or is forced into a specific shape using expensive optics. Conventional lasers can be found in printers, barcode scanners, DVD players, cutting & welding tools and surgical instruments.
The CSIR’s digital laser uses its LCD as one of its mirrors. Because an LCD is used cost is reduced significantly and the image it displays changes the shape of the laser beam that is emitted. This allows for digital control of the beam in real time.
Up to now drilling different patterns with a conventional laser meant directing round laser beams around a pattern, but this process is most probably going to be revolutionized with this digital laser. This invention could allow you to turn a beam into a pattern and could reduce costs for cutting objects with laser drastically. In the communications field the CSIR’s digital laser could also be applied to broaden bandwidth – the potential for uses of this technology is truly endless.
This technology is still in its development stage and the patenting process for it should be finalized by next year. The CSIR research team have already been approached by engineers from the United States, Russia and Germany for collaboration and the students who are involved in the project are already writing a business plan.
The development of the world’s first digital laser by the CSIR is proof that South Africa has some of the most intelligent and bright researchers on the planet and that’s anything is possible if you put a lot of hard work and effort into it.
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