Using chaos theory and an egg-shaped cavity, scientists from Yale University (New Haven, CT), Lucent Technologies Bell Labs (Murray Hill, NJ), and the Max Planck Institute of Physics (Dresden, Germany) developed semiconductor microlasers with more than 1,000 times the power of conventional, disk-shaped microlasers. These tiny energy sources are 0.05 mm in diameter, or as wide as human hair. The researchers say the experimental lasers could either be used to speed up voice, video, Internet, and other forms of communication that use fiber-optic networks or become the basis for entirely new networks. The discovery could allow manufacturers to build computers that would operate with light instead of electrons, with fiber optics replacing wiring. Instead of using the traditional circular laser cavity, Yale physicist A. Douglas Stone suggested changing the shape to an oval or egg. "If it's a circular cylinder, a lot of the laser beam gets wasted and doesn't get out at all," Stone says. Experiments showed that, above a critical deformation level, the light pulses would travel in a bow-tie pattern. They suffer less internal reflection and emit light in four narrow, controllable beams. An enormous increase in output power accompanies this change, Stone says. Each beam has an output of 10 mW, increasing the laser's total output to 40 mW, compared to 40 microwatts in the round cylinder. FAX: (203) 432-2207.
Two researchers from Cornell University have won a $100,000 grant from NASA to continue work to develop an energy-harvesting robotic eel the space agency aims to use to explore oceans on one of the moons of Jupiter.
Is the factory smarter than it used to be? From recent buzzwords, you’d think we’ve entered a new dimension in industrial plants, where robots run all physical functions wirelessly and humans do little more than program ever more capable robotics. Some of that is actually true, but it’s been true for a while.
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