You can now print out lasers on your inkjet

You can never have enough lasers in your life. They're already everywhere, of course, but mostly they're off doing practical things, and it can sometimes be hard to justify having a whole bunch of lasers just because, you know, lasers. But now that you can just print them out on virtually any surface with an inkjet, everything can be a laser. Everything.

To make a laser, you (usually) need something called an optically resonant cavity, where photons can bounce back and forth until they get excited enough to blast out in the form of laser light. You can make a cavity out of something as small as a single molecule, using (say) chiral nematic liquid crystals, which have a helical structure. Add a fluorescent dye plus energy, and pew pew, you've got a laser.

The tricky part to making a laser like this is getting the crystals to align themselves properly, which up until this point has required multiple complex production steps inside a cleanroom environment. Researchers at Cambridge University have figured out how to do away with all of those steps and just rig up an inkjet printer to spit out fully armed and operational multi-color laser dots onto a sheet covered in a wet polymer solution. As the polymer dries, it chemically and mechanically pushes those chiral nematic liquid crystals into the right alignment in one single hands-off step, turning each dot into its own little laser.

Potentially, this should work with existing equipment, and it should also work on virtually any surface, whether it's rigid or flexible. That means if you're willing to cover yourself in a wet polymer solution, you could print lasers on your face. In the short term, face lasers are not going to be the researchers' focus, but rather they'll be looking to develop things like high resolution laser display systems. I dunno about you, but I for one am looking forward to taking a laser and printing some lasers onto it, thereby making a laser laser. Mind = blown.

Cambridge, via NBF

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