University of Texas at Austin

Monday, September 8, 2008

Not just laser tag

Lasers have made news recently at The University of Texas at Austin.

The Texas Petawatt Laser, the world’s most powerful, went on line in August.

Todd Ditmire, director of the Texas Petawatt Laser

Todd Ditmire, director of the Texas Petawatt Laser

It will help researchers recreate processes such as the birth of stars and investigate nuclear fusion.

Earlier, a biomedical engineering professor showed that a laser microscalpel could zap individual cells and leave surrounding cells alone. So much for cancerous cells hiding out among healthy tissue—at least when the microscalpel is ready for prime time.

Here are some other uses of lasers at The University of Texas at Austin:

At McDonald Observatory, astronomers shoot a laser at the moon and measure how long it takes to bounce back. Astronauts set out the laser targets during Apollo missions. The McDonald laser also does that back-and-forth with satellites. This activity helps monitor a number of things including earth’s gravitational field, plate tectonics, earth’s orientation in space, high precision time transfer, relativity and lunar and solar system dynamics.

At the Center for Space Research, the Geoscience Laser Altimetry System (GLAS) shoots a laser back at Earth to measure ice-sheet topography and associated temporal changes, as well as cloud and atmospheric properties.

An art professor, Vincent Mariani, uses lasers and holography in creating sculptures.

When they get around to having a laser tag tournament, my money’s on the folks from the Petawatt lab. Of course, since it works in fractions of fractions of a second, you might not know that the game is over for a while.

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