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Scientists develop unique laser that could transform medicine... and mobile phones

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13 May 2015


The only one of its kind, it can cut bones and tissues without burning them or causing them any damage, and glass such as that needed for mobile phones. Picture: Vera Salnitskaya

Scientists in Tomsk have developed a unique multi-functional metal-vapour laser that can be used in everything from medicine to communication technology.

The only one of its kind, it can cut bones and tissues without burning them or causing them any damage, and glass such as that needed for mobile phones. It can even analyse the gas composition of the atmosphere around it and could potentially be used as a new device for ecologists. While there are lots of kinds of lasers, particularly gas lasers, there is not a multi-functional one that can be used in different fields.

Developed at Tomsk State University, the breakthrough is the culmination of decades of work and comes 52 years after researchers devised the first Tomsk laser in laboratories within the facility.

'There is no such laser anywhere else in the world, and there is a lot of interest in it,' said 73-year-old Professor Anatolyi Soldatov, dean of the Innovative Technologies department.

Anantoly Soldatov

Professor Anatolyi Soldatov, 73, dean of the Innovative Technologies department in Tomsk State University. Picture: Vera Salnitskaya

'We're ready to partner with healthcare professionals to apply the laser. There are a few of them interested, for example Siberian State Medical University institute of pharmacology (Tomsk), Pirogov Russian National Research Medical University (Moscow), Wuhan University of Technology (China).'

The new laser is a strontium vapour laser that can operate with a wavelength of 6.45 microns.

Prof Soldatov revealed that it almost wasn't invented after the theory behind it was created years ago and then forgotten about. It was only when asked about the technology by American academics in 2001 that rekindled interest in it. Now it could be adopted by a number of major companies, including Samsung. 

Prof Soldatov explained: 'Laser studies in Tomsk actually date back to 1960s. The first laser in Tomsk was launched in 1963 and was a low-powered helium-neon one.

First lasers in Tomsk

First lasers in Tomsk

Ivan Muravyev, Alexandra Yancharina, Anatoly Soldatov and first Tomsk laser. Anatoly Soldatov and the students of Tomsk State University working with laser in 1986. Pictures: Anatoly Soldatov

'It's still produced by some industrial companies but at the time it was a top-notch technology. Over the next two decades we launched all sorts of lasers, including helium-neon, argon, carbon dioxide and nitrogen lasers.

'Our scientific research then focused around metal-vapour lasers. Metal-vapour lasers are actually gas lasers because while copper, gold, and lead are solid at room temperature, once we put them into the active element, they heat and thaw.

'Russian scientists started working in this area earlier than the rest of the globe, and the first papers on copper vapour lasers were published in Russia. Our research group also made significant scientific results in this direction.'

In 1982 a paper was published about a device made for the military called LIDAR – Light Identification Detection and Ranging. A strontium vapour laser, it was tested on military training ground on Lake Balkhash, and allowed to measure the concentration of the water vapor in the atmosphere but then forgotten about.

New laser

New laser

New laser

'Strontium vapor lasers can operate simultaneously at 10-12 different wavelengths. That's an exceptional case for vapor lasers.' Pictures: Vera Salnitskaya

Prof Soldatov said: 'In the early 2000s in the US, Vanderbilt University was researching a free-electron laser. They were trying to find a perfect wave for drilling of the bone and cutting the soft tissues. It was very important research for transplants.

'The first thing they determined is that the best wavelength is 6.45 microns. At this wavelength it was possible to make good incisions and you can choose the mode in which the tissue charring practically does not occur.

'After that, the Americans began to wonder whether there were any lasers in the world at this wavelength but are smaller than the free-electron laser. They found our old publication from 1983 and they found us.' He added: 'It turned out that a strontium vapour laser is suitable for cutting soft tissues and bones.

'Obviously, it was necessary to improve it, and now we’re developing the technologies for cutting live tissue and working on optimizing the laser, the shortening of the pulse duration to a few nanoseconds, increasing the energy density.'

Prof Soldatov said that while the laser was developed mainly for medical purposes they also used it to cut glass for gadgets such as smartphones and tablets.

New laser

New laser

New laser

New laser

Leading engineer Alexey Shumeyko testing various metal-vapour lasers. Pictures: Vera Salnitskaya

He said: 'We tried our laser to cut glass that Samsung Electronics sent us. It turned out that the strontium vapour laser is the best for cutting and it's not a mere coincidence. Industrial devices use carbon dioxide lasers with a 10.6 micron wavelength. It doesn't go through the glass, but instead focuses on it and heats it. Eventually, 20 per cent to 30 per cent of the glass cut this way can't be used because of the small chips, forming during the procedure.'

'Strontium vapor lasers can operate simultaneously at 10-12 different wavelengths. That's an exceptional case for vapor lasers. That is we have a multi wave system that combines both surface and in-depth thermal detachment which results into a perfect surface. Electronic microscope study showed that the number of imperfections [when cutting glass with a strontium laser] is hundred times smaller compared to cutting with carbon dioxide laser.'

As a result of the success, contracts with Chinese and South Korean companies.

Comments (1)

It would be also interesting if Rusia also could msnufacture the glass at a competitive price, and later use It on YotaPhones for example.
Enrique, Spain
15/05/2015 09:23

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