A recent breakthrough in laser refrigeration has the potential to change the game in precision cooling.
Lasers have been a mainstay in popular culture for decades, but in recent years scientists have been coming up with real methods for utilizing their potential. According to a report from CS Monitor, a recent study from researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle lays out a method for using the power of lasers to refrigerate liquids under normal conditions.
Traditionally, lasers have been used to heat things up. The first laser was constructed in 1960, and the technology has grown to burn, slice, and measure objects with great precision. While lasers have been shown to cool liquids in a vacuum in previous experiments, this is the first time researchers have been able to do it in everyday conditions.
Researchers at the National Laboratory in Los Angeles began working on laser refrigeration in 1995, but were unable to recreate the cooling effect without a complete absence of air particles.
Scientists at the University of Washington began aiming extremely hot lasers at a small crystal in the water. The glow emanating from the crystal was so hot that removed heat from both the solid crystal and the liquid water surrounding it. To confirm that the crystal was becoming cooler, they added a chemical that would react to a dropping temperature and change colors.
The study is still in its early stages; it takes a lot of energy to produce a laser beam powerful enough to cool the water surrounding a crystal. Researchers hope that they can improve the efficiency of their methods, which may have a wide range of potential applications.
The scientists think that their technique could be used to isolate molecules in super-chilled solutions in order to study their structure. It could also have practical applications in industrial processes that require precisely targeted cooling.
According to Dr. Peter Pauzauskie, a UW professor of materials science and engineering, the technique could be used in biological research to study how cells split and interact with enzymes and other molecules. Researchers could slow down the processes within a cell to get a closer look at the way life operates.
A press release from the University of Washington describing the details of the study can be found here.