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South African Scientists Develop A World's First Digital Laser

posted 22 Nov 2013, 09:27 by Mpelembe   [ updated 22 Nov 2013, 09:28 ]

Researchers at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) develop the world's first digital laser, which they say could change traditional manufacturing, communications and electronic devices.

PRETORIASOUTH AFRICA (RECENT) (REUTERS) -  A group of researchers at South Africa's Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) have developed the world's first digital laser.

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The team described it as a "disruptive technology" that could change the ways of manufacturing, communication and how electronic devices work.

Their work is being regarded as a breakthrough in laser technology. The team has shown that laser beams can be digitally controlled from within a laser device to shape it in new ways.

Professor Andrew Forbes, chief scientist and the leader in the National Laser Centre's mathematical optics group explained further, the technology behind this new innovation.

"The digital laser was an idea that we had few years ago, its is basically an interception of two very disparate worlds, the one is digital holography using small LCD screens, the same screens that you would have in your house as televisions to dynamically change lights. And the other parts is the laser world the digital laser, which is a conventional laser system and what the digital laser does differently to an ordinary laser, is that you take one of the mirrors after the ordinary laser and replace it with this miniature television sets and by changing the pattern on the television you can change the properties of the laser," he said.

In a conventional laser, the laser beam is shaped inside a box with two mirrors. The curvature of these mirrors determines the size and shape of the beam.

Forbes says there is great significance in the new findings, even though they will not be obvious to the human eye.

"The average person in society is not going to see the digital laser up front in a way that you would see a new cellphone. I think the digital laser is going to be behind the scenes, making things work faster in communication, more efficient in manufacturing, more precise in medicine, so the person wont notice it," he said.

Sandile Ngcobo, a PhD candidate in the research unit, was instrumental in learning that they could digitally manipulate a laser beam from inside the laser.

Ngcobo, who conducted the experiments that were published in the prestigious Nature Communications Journal as part of his thesis, said the discovery is quite an achievement for him and his team.

"There is lot of challenges, I mean there is lot of money spent buying different LCD screens to check which one is the right one and also the journey, I mean, a lot of work, I mean we started in 2010 so it's been a while trying to solve one problem, from one to another, so actually come to a point where we actually are able to get the laser to work, it's quite an accomplishment," added Ngcobo.

South African Science Minister Derek Hanekom said CSIR's digital laser was the latest addition to South Africa's list of "firsts", which included the first heart transplant by Dr Chris Barnard.

Local scientists have also pioneered the computerised axial tomography scan, known as the CAT scan.