Feeds

Boffins develop liquid crystal solid-state raygun turret

Points laser beam with no need to shift laser

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

OK, so you've done it. You've finally built a high-energy laser which can put out a megawatt-range beam, and it doesn't emit toxic corrosive exhaust or melt itself in operation or weigh a prohibitive amount. Now to revolutionise warfare, right?

Well, just hold on there my crazy boffin friend: it's no good trying to hold the world to ransom just yet. If you want to employ your brilliant new raygun in the most popular applications – shooting down fast-moving cannon shells or nuclear missiles in mid-air, for instance – you will need to be able to point the beam easily and quickly. Simply pointing the whole laser is unlikely to be practical: and directing a superpowered raygun beam using conventional optics such as mirrors or lenses is likely to be troublesome as even the tiniest inefficiencies could divert enough energy to make your apparatus explode.

Enter Jihwan Kim and Michael Escuti, engineering brainboxes at North Carolina State University in the USA. They say they've hit upon a means of pointing laser beams using a stack of "polarisation gratings" – liquid-crystal patterns on glass plates. These can direct even a powerful war-grade ray without getting melted themselves, apparently.

"Because each individual grating is very good at redirecting light in the desired directions with almost no absorption, the stack of gratings do not significantly weaken the laser power," says Escuti.

The doc and his colleagues write:

The device shows high optical throughput (78% −83%) that can be substantially improved by optimizing substrates and electrode materials.

The gratings are solid-state and made using normal liquid-crystal industrial methods, too, so they should be reliable, very quick-acting and low cost – just the thing for holding a powerful beam on a speeding nuclear missile (or more realistically a falling Katyusha rocket; or more realistically still holding a less powerful ray on a moving communications reception apparatus).

Though it would seem likely that the liquid-crystal beam pointer kit will actually see its first applications in such fields as sensors and comms rather than blaster cannons, it does seem promising for weapons also. The US Navy's plans for a future fleet of raygun dreadnoughts may have moved a small step further forward: and so perhaps has the glorious day of the shark-portable, hat-mounted directed energy weapon.

Kim, Escuti and their colleagues' paper Wide-angle, nonmechanical beam steering with high-throughput utilizing polarization gratings is to be published in the journal Applied Optics. Until then you can read it in PDF (12 pages/1.1MB) here. ®

Remote control for virtualized desktops

More from The Register

next story
Renewable energy 'simply WON'T WORK': Top Google engineers
Windmills, solar, tidal - all a 'false hope', say Stanford PhDs
SEX BEAST SEALS may be egging each other on to ATTACK PENGUINS
Boffin: 'I think the behaviour is increasing in frequency'
The next big thing in medical science: POO TRANSPLANTS
Your brother's gonna die, kid, unless we can give him your, well ...
Post-pub nosh neckfiller: The MIGHTY Scotch egg
Off to the boozer? This delicacy might help mitigate the effects
I'M SO SORRY, sobs Rosetta Brit boffin in 'sexist' sexy shirt storm
'He is just being himself' says proud mum of larger-than-life physicist
NASA launches new climate model at SC14
75 days of supercomputing later ...
Britain's HUMAN DNA-strewing Moon mission rakes in £200k
3 days, and Kickstarter moves lander 37% nearer takeoff
prev story

Whitepapers

Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
5 critical considerations for enterprise cloud backup
Key considerations when evaluating cloud backup solutions to ensure adequate protection security and availability of enterprise data.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Business security measures using SSL
Examines the major types of threats to information security that businesses face today and the techniques for mitigating those threats.