The boffin who laid the foundations for the development of the laser has died. Charles Townes was 99.
Townes who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1964 is best known as the “inventor” of the laser but he was also a pioneer in the field of infrared astronomy and was the first to discover water in space.
He first built a maser in the mid-1950s, which used microwave amplification rather than light.
At the time Gordon Gould at ARPA and Ted Maiman at Hughes Labs were working on similar research in the late 1950s. I Maiman who built a practical laser in 1960, but he used the published research of Townes.
Townes shared his 1964 Nobel Prize with Russian scientists N. G. Basov and Aleksandr Prokhorov because they were also working on the laser in the Soviet Union concurrently and independently of Townes.
Later in his life, he became famous for suggesting that one-day science and religion would one day merge, revealing the secrets of creation.
The committed Christian told some Harvard students: “I look at science and religion as quite parallel, much more similar than most people think and that in the long run, they must converge. It’s a fantastically specialized universe, but how in the world did it happen?”
He was honoured in 2005 with the Templeton Prize for contributions to “affirming life’s spiritual dimension.”
Townes never really stopped working and would show up at Berkeley until he became unwell last year.
He did live long enough for his laser to be turned into the sci-fi weapon that it was touted to be in the 1960s, although not long enough to see them strapped to sharks.
The US Navy has decided that an experimental laser weapon on its Afloat Forward Staging Base (AFSB) in the Persian Gulf is allowed to destroy things for real.
US Central Command has given permission for the commander of the USS Ponce ship to defend itself with the weapon, if anyone attacks.
The 30 kilowatt Laser Weapon System (LaWS) was installed aboard USS Ponce this summer as part of a $40 million research and development effort from ONR and Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) to test the viability of directed energy weapons in an operational environment.
ONR Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder (no really) said that the captain of that ship has all of the permission necessary if there was a threat inbound to that ship to protect its sailors and Marines with the laser.
The laser will be used against drones, slow moving helicopters and fast patrol craft.
So far, the laser has been seen disabling a small Scan Eagle-sized UAV, detonated a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) and burned out the engine of a rigid hull inflatable boat (RHIB).
Humans were not a target of the weapon, under the Geneva Convention.
He did say that the Navy has tested LaWS against a simulated small boat so-called swarm attack and that the system was effective.
LaWS is tied to the ship’s navigation radar and the close-in weapon system (CIWS) and can be targeted independently by sailors on the ship through a station in Ponce’s combat information centre (CIC).
LaWS has proved useful as a surveillance tool due to its powerful optics that can detect objects at “tactically significant ranges” like a shipboard “Hubble Telescope,” Klunder said.
In a bid to save cash on expensive fibre optic lines, 10-year-old laser networking technology is being re-introduced.
The technology that uses parallel radio and laser links to move data through the air at high speeds, in wireless hops of up to 10 kilometres at a time. It is being trailed by three of the largest US Internet carriers and is being rolled out by one telecommunications provider in Mexico, and another in Nigeria.
AOptix, the company behind the technology, claims the system is cheaper and more practical alternative to laying new fibre optic cables because it does not require trenches to install fibre in urban areas.
However, it does face significant bureaucratic and physical challenges and because of its bandwidth is being seen as particularly attractive to wireless carriers.
According to MIT Review, the technology takes the form of a box with an infrared laser and a directional millimetre wave radio beside it. The two technologies form a wireless link with an identical box up to 10 kilometers away. A series of such connections can be daisy-chained together to make a link of any length.
It fixes the two problems associated with laser and radio. Laser beams are blocked by fog, while millimetre wave radio signals are absorbed by rain. Routing data over both simultaneously provides redundancy that allows an AOptix link to guarantee a rate of two gigabits per second with only five minutes or less downtime in a year, whatever the weather.
While fibre connection might be 10 or more times faster than that, due to the limitations of the radio frequency link. However, AOptix says the convenience of its technology makes up for that, and it could be increased to four gigabits or more in the future.
The radio and laser equipment inside an AOptix device move automatically to compensate for the swaying of a cell tower caused by wind.
Dartmouth scientists and their colleagues have emerged from their smoke filled labs with a laser that uses a single artificial atom to generate and emit particles of light.
The laser may play a key role in the development of quantum computers.
According to the journal Physical Review B, which we get for the spot the neutron competition, the new laser is the first to rely exclusively on superconducting electron pairs.
Alex Rimberg, a professor of physics and astronomy at Dartmouth said that the fact the laser only uses only superconducting pairs means that that electrical energy can travel without any resistance or loss of energy.
The artificial atom is made of nanoscale pieces of superconductor which you can make part of an electrical circuit on a chip, something you can’t do with a real atom. It means that there is now a much clearer path toward interesting applications in quantum computing.
Light from the laser is produced by applying electricity to the artificial atom. This causes electrons to hop across the atom and, in the process, produce photons that are trapped between two superconducting mirrors.
With the new laser, electrical energy is converted to light that has the ability to transmit information to and from a quantum computer.
“With a quantum computer, you have to get the information from point A to point B,” he says. “A computer that does a calculation but has no way of getting the information anywhere else isn’t particularly useful. Our laser might offer an easy way of producing the kinds of weird quantum states of light that could be used to carry quantum information around.”
It is starting to look like inkjets are going the way of the Dodo and the Rubik’s Cube.
Figures from Context show that all-in-one inkjet sales in the UK slid 11.8 percent by volume in 2012. That figure is better than the rest of the EU where all-in-one inkjet sales fell by 14 per cent.
Wireless versions of InkJets are doing slightly better because they are popular in homes and small offices because they can be located easily, connecting to multiple devices without cabling.
As you might expect, HP is still the leading vendor of wireless all-in-one inkjets, although Epson and Canon are doing a little better. However, the InkJet market has been looking shaky for a year.
In August Lexmark announced that it was pulling out of the market completely. Lexmark made its name on the “flog a cheap printer make your money back on the ink” model which was pioneered by HP. The fact that it left the market was seen as the beginning of the end. If Lexmark could kill off an entire business, unit sales numbers must have been dramatically bad.
Other companies have been seeing the writing on the wall for about three years. Consumer inkjet sales were proving so bad that it was better to try and flog the technology to corporate. Epson spent a fortune on its WorkForce high-end inkjets and did OK. HP, which has pitched its products to the business market for years, should have been doing fine too.
However, HP CEO Meg Whitman blamed part of the company’s recent and dismal earnings announcement as a steep decline in HP printer sales. She said that this lack of interest from consumers meant HP was going to de-emphasise products for lower-end customers. It seems business customers are no longer that interested either.
It is not quite so clear why the inkjet market has been so completely gutted. There have been moves to claim that the low end market and the consumer space have become completely paperless. Pictures which once would have been printed are now saved and shared across the net. Hard copy is less likely to be needed.
Some of that might be true, but the cost and quality of laser printing has also dropped. Cartridges require filling less often and are frequently cheaper than inkjets. Mostly it is because in the consumer market inkjet sales were tied to PC sales. Cheap inkjets were often sold as packages with PCs.
It also might indicate that there was a gradual realisation among consumers that inkjets really are a waste of cash in the long term. While the high-end inkjet technology was good, particularly for photographs, most of the great unwashed would not pay over £250 for a decent inkjet with all the sub-$100 models floating around. The cheap and nasty machines poisoned the market for the others.