Lasers of a feather light better

Researchers have developed a new kind of laser that mimics some of the world's most beautiful birds, copying the nanoscale structure of their brightly colored feathers to capture light.

Jef Akst
Jef Akst

Jef Akst is managing editor of The Scientist, where she started as an intern in 2009 after receiving a master’s degree from Indiana University in April 2009 studying the mating behavior of seahorses.

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May 14, 2011

IMAGE: FRANK WOUTERS, FLICKR

Researchers have developed a new kind of laser that mimics some of the world's most beautiful birds, copying the nanoscale structure of their brightly colored feathers to capture light. Many lasers are created using holes or pockets of air can trap light, giving it time to build up a sufficient number of photons to emit extremely high-intensity light. Birds like kingfishers or parrots achieve their brilliant colors in a similar way -- trapping wavelengths of light so that they build up before being emitted. Unlike the highly ordered or completely random patterns traditionally used in lasers, the air pockets of bird feathers are neither ordered nor random, and mimicking these patterns may be a more efficient way to produce laser light, according to research published last week in Physical Review Letters. The researchers also determined that by altering the spacing between the holes, they...

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