‘Superradiant’ Laser Design Demonstrated By JILA

Physicists from JILA have demonstrated a new laser design that has stability 100 to 1000 times more than the visible lasers. The new laser design can help in raising the effeciency of navigation systems, atomic clocks, communications system and space astronomical instruments.

BOULDER, Colo. –Physicists at JILA have demonstrated a novel “superradiant” laser design, which has the potential to be 100 to 1,000 times more stable than the best conventional visible lasers. This type of laser could boost the performance of the most advanced atomic clocks and related technologies, such as communications and navigation systems as well as space-based astronomical instruments.

Described in the April 5, 2012, issue of Nature,* the JILA laser prototype relies on a million rubidium atoms doing a sort of synchronized line dance to produce a dim beam of deep red laser light. JILA is a joint institute of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Colorado Boulder (CU).

JILA/NIST physicist James Thompson says the new laser is based on a powerful engineering technique called “phased arrays” in which electromagnetic waves from a large group of identical antennas are carefully synchronized to build a combined wave with special useful features that are not possible otherwise.

An ordinary laser relies on millions of particles of light (photons) ricocheting back and forth between two mirrors, striking atoms in the lasing material and generating copies of themselves to build up intense light. Photons with synchronized wave patterns leak out of the mirrored cavity to form a laser beam.** The laser frequency, or color, wobbles slightly because the mirrors are vibrating due to either the motion of atoms in the mirrors or environmental disturbances—which can be as subtle as people walking past the room or cars driving near the building.

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