Disposable, single-use items are used by the general public on an almost daily basis. Whether it’s cups, razors, or cleaning products, the ability to consistently have essentials on hand is a convenience for many around the world. When thinking of disposable items and products, lasers are far from the first thing that pops into one’s mind. Teams in France and Hungary are looking to change that perception by creating a small, printed (and possibly disposable!) laser system.
Using inkjet printing, the researchers have designed and developed laser systems that are so low-cost and efficient, they might as well be thrown away after use. The lasers are organic in nature, using carbon-based materials to amplify light. Organic lasers have the advantage in this application due to their low cost, ease of creation, range of wavelengths, and “high yield photonic conversion.”
One of the major criticisms of organic lasers is the faster degradation rate compared to inorganic lasers. By making the lasers less costly, the downfall becomes the perk, opening the door for disposable laser systems in the fairly near future.
This is not to say that laser systems are going to be coming out of your office printer anytime soon. The process of inkjet printing, however, is very similar across its many applications. Essentially, inkjet printing works by simply applying small amounts of a fluid ink to another surface. As dyes are already used in a number of laser applications, the team combined the dyes with an ink known as EMD6415, chosen due to its “printing and optical properties.”
The ink was then printed onto a slide made of quartz, in 50 mm² pixels to create a laser chip. The ink serves as the laser’s gain medium, as the chip is placed between two mirrors that reflect light back and forth through the gain medium and an energy source. An additional laser, referred to as the pump, provides the necessary energy for the laser chip to work.
The researchers estimate that the laser chips could be manufactured for a mere few cents, and could potentially be swapped out once the laser starts to deteriorate. The biggest obstacle to the widespread implementation of disposable, organic lasers is the need to be powered by a separate, high-energy laser. Once an alternative method is found, researchers speculate that the disposable, printed lasers could be used for sample analysis for chemical or biological materials.