Creating Lasers with Inkjets Sep 19, 2012 15:35 by Huw Carrington
Lasers are fairly incredible things – whether we see them in sci-fi classics, hear them warming up in our office’s laserjet printer, or they’re copying data to a disc, their uses are myriad, and the modern world probably wouldn’t be quite the same without them.
A team from the university of Cambridge has done something a little different with them; using a relatively normal inkjet printer installed with cartridges full of liquid crystals, they’ve printed microscopic dots on a specially prepared film surface. ‘Big woop’ we hear you say – anyone can print dots on paper, but these are a little bit special.When the liquid crystallises, they become lasers.
Most lasers are created by pouring liquid crystal between two sheets of glass that are coated with a substance that makes them align in a particular way. This is expensive, and so products that use them – TVs, computers, manufacturing machinery – are likewise not cheap.
By using the liquid system of inkjet technology, and by adding simple dyes to the mix to create ‘gain’ (something that increases the amplitude of the light in the laser), this new method creates lasers in a very economical way.
This has great potential for future developments – in its current form, whole walls can be created like this very cheaply and quickly, which could, with an appropriate handheld scanner, provide ways for those with impaired sight to navigate around museums and public buildings. At the very least, there’s the possibility that home products using lasers – from printers to computer to lights – will come down in price if this becomes widespread.
We’d be excited to see this hit the home market, being combined with 3D printers to create basic objects, like laser pens, or data storage, but until they find a way to make it more commercial, we shall wait with bated breath.