August 17, 2012
Masers Finally Come Out Of The Cold And Operate At Room Temperature
Michael Harper for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
While we´ve been fixated with lasers – shooting them from flying ships, attaching them to shark´s heads, what have you – there´s been another sort of beam waiting in the wings for someone to take notice.
In fact, "Masers" have been around before their cooler, younger sibling the Laser. They´ve also been more difficult to generate, requiring high magnetic fields and plenty of cooling. Masers are microwave-emitting beams which are produced in very cold temperatures, and a recent report in Nature outlines a newer, much simpler way to get these Masers to come out and play.
Using a simple crystalline material, Masers can be generated without the need of a cooling agent or magnets. Now the full potential of these Masers can be realized, and according to BBC News, these Masers are chock full of pew-pew-pew-potential.
For instance, these microwave-emitting beams can be used in both medical diagnostics and astronomy, detecting cancer cells as well as alien life forms on other planets.
Albert Einstein has a hand in the origin of the Maser as he first had the notion that energy could be concentrated, then pumped into a beam of electromagnetic waves oscillating in perfect harmony.
The first Maser was built in 1953 and, according to the BBC, was used in the first transatlantic television broadcast.
These researchers responsible for the first Maser continued their work, and later decided they wanted to emit visible beams of light from their oscillating waves rather than invisible microwaves. Thus, the laser was born and thrust to stardom, quite literally. Microwaves, on the other hand, were sent to the kitchen to warm up our leftovers and power the atomic clock.
Researchers at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) and Imperial College London in the UK are now showing the Maser some love by creating an easier way to create such a beam. Using a crystal of material known as p-terphenyl, these researchers are able to use a yellow light from a common, workaday medical laser to pump energy into the p-terphenyl. In doing so, synchronized microwaves, or a Maser, is produced, without the use of cooling machines or large magnets.
Mark Oxborrow, the lead author of the resulting paper, has called the new design "a new type of electronic device" and is confident that it will be able to be applied to a number of fields, even more than originally thought.
One of the benefits of Masers over Lasers is their quiet and smooth operation. Masers can be adjusted and strengthened without adding much noise. Therefore, Masers can be used to detect signals from outer space, even if these signals are coming from billions of miles away.
Additionally, microwaves are able to pass through materials lasers cannot, such as clouds, skin, clothes, etc. As such, Masers can be used in the medical field to perform accurate medical diagnostics, such as finding cancerous cells and tumors. Masers can even be used to detect explosives, meaning safer, happier, more alive explosive-sniffing dogs. As for the medical applications, Dr. Oxborrow tells the BBC, “Perhaps the one application that is most relevant is more sensitive forms of body scanners.”
"Sensitivity matters with body scanners, because detecting a tumor before it metastasizes is so useful.”
Dr. Oxborrow ends by saying, "If this device can make even just a slightly more sensitive body scanner, it could put smiles on people's faces - they'll still be around to smile."
Ah Science...once more offering proof positive that even if you aren´t a movie star, you can still be a viable part of society.