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Nanolaser 'new breakthrough'

1st September 2009

Scientists in the US have managed to construct the world’s smallest semiconductor laser.

DNA

The device can focus beams of light smaller than a single molecule of protein.

The invention has been called a technological breakthrough, and will open the door to the small-scale manipulation of DNA for biomedical applications.

Xiang Zhang, mechanical engineering professor at the University of California at Berkeley, said that the result shattered traditional notions of laser limits, and made a major advance toward applications in the biomedical, communications and computing fields.

His team’s new device is a groundbreaking invention because the focused light it emits acts as a laser and does not dissipate as it moves forward.

Zhang said that scientists can now use his lasers to manipulate DNA molecules. The discovery may also dramatically increase the speed of computers and telecommunication in the years to come.

Zhang's laser has been a long time coming, with other researchers trying to create something similar using other methods which involve oscillating electrons on microscopic metal surfaces.

The main problem facing such researchers trying to focus light using oscillating electrons on metallic surfaces was the eventual dissipation of the electric charge.

Zhang and his colleagues were able to surpass the presupposed limitations upon such inventions by creating a cadmium sulphide “nanowire” that can store photons in a 5 nanometer radius.
 
Rupert Oulton, a research associate in Zhang's lab, said that the nanowire is a hybrid structure that saves space and amplifies the signal at the same time.
 
When light is sustained in such a small space, the way it interacts with matter changes.

Scientists working in biomedical applications will be able to use the lasers to explore a variety of biological processes that were too small to observe or influence before.

 

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