Feeds

British boffin builds cool maser after argument with wife

Her indoors inspires him upstairs

A new approach to endpoint data protection

Vid An obscure Japanese research paper, some second-hand equipment on eBay, and a British scientist's argument with his wife have become the catalysts for creating the world's first room-temperature microwave laser. It's also around 100 million times more powerful than current models.

Masers (Microwave Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation) have been around for decades and use stimulated microwaves, as opposed to light in lasers, to produce an output. Masers are rarely used these days, largely for practical reasons, since they require magnetic shielding and cryogenic temperatures to work.

But Mark Oxborrow, a physicist at the UK National Physical Laboratory, came across a decade-old Japanese research paper that suggested the properties of the organic molecule pentacene could be useful in creating masers when stimulated by a laser beam.

With some help from materials scientists Jonathan Breeze and Neil Alford at Imperial College London, he created a crystal by combining the pentacene and another organic compound called p-terphenyl. He then bought an old medical laser from a source in North London to set up the experiment.

Then he choked, and didn't turn the experiment on, saying it all looked too easy. Such choking isn't uncommon – Darwin sat on Origin of Species for nearly 20 years after all. "For about three days, I could have done it, but I didn't have the nerve to switch on that button," Oxborrow tells Nature.

maser

The pink pentacene heart of future masers

In the end it took an argument with his wife to get him motivated. He went down to the laboratory to cool off and decided to switch the experiment on. The results exceeded expectations, with maser emissions around 100 million times stronger than anything achieved before.

"The signal that came out of it was huge," he says, "I swore a lot and walked around the corridor about five times talking to myself."

To cap it all, the maser should work a lot better still with better assembly. The crystal created to power the system was slightly singed in the process, and the team hopes that with better materials they can get stronger outputs still.

The next step is to get the maser to operate continuously, since it will only send out pulses at present, and to try other materials that could also provide cool masing, as well as making such devices smaller and more portable.

"When lasers were invented no one quite knew exactly how they would be used and yet, the technology flourished to the point that lasers have now become ubiquitous in our everyday lives," said Professor Neil Alford, co-author and Head of the Department of Materials at Imperial College London, in a statement.

"We've still got a long way to go before the maser reaches that level, but our breakthrough does mean that this technology can literally come out of the cold and start becoming more useful." ®

The Essential Guide to IT Transformation

More from The Register

next story
Just TWO climate committee MPs contradict IPCC: The two with SCIENCE degrees
'Greenhouse effect is real, but as for the rest of it ...'
Asteroid's DINO KILLING SPREE just bad luck – boffins
Sauricide WASN'T inevitable, reckon scientists
Brit amateur payload set to complete full circle around PLANET EARTH
Ultralight solar radio tracker in glorious 25,000km almost-space odyssey
Boffins spot weirder quantum capers as neutrons take the high road, spin takes the low
Cheshire cat effect see neutrons and their properties walk different paths
NASA Mars rover FINALLY equals 1973 Soviet benchmark
Yet to surpass ancient Greek one, however
Famous 'Dish' radio telescope to be emptied in budget crisis: CSIRO
Radio astronomy suffering to protect Square Kilometre Array
prev story

Whitepapers

7 Elements of Radically Simple OS Migration
Avoid the typical headaches of OS migration during your next project by learning about 7 elements of radically simple OS migration.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Solving today's distributed Big Data backup challenges
Enable IT efficiency and allow a firm to access and reuse corporate information for competitive advantage, ultimately changing business outcomes.
A new approach to endpoint data protection
What is the best way to ensure comprehensive visibility, management, and control of information on both company-owned and employee-owned devices?