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Thursday, August 16, 2012

The room-temperature maser relies on a crystal of organic molecules excited with an optical laser.

NPL

"Before there were lasers, there were masers: systems that amplified microwaves instead of light. Solid state masers are used in a variety of applications, including deep space communication, but they've never been as popular as lasers, in part because they have to be cooled to near absolute zero in order to work. Now a team of British physicists have built a room-temperature maser using some spare chemicals and a laser they bought off of eBay. The new device is 100 million times as powerful as existing masers and might revolutionize telecommunications."

link to the proper paper is at the bottom in the references part, with a good description of results. Here is a direct link: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v488/n7411/pdf/nature11339.pdf

Solid state laser diodes got us optical media, fibre optics, 3d scanners, etc, because they're not fragile, big, and expensive like gas lasers. Gas masers are big, expensive, and fragile and need specialized technicians to keep running. Solid state masers you can take out in the field. You can put them in a hand-held device. Plus it's cheap. Really cheap. I just looked up the cost of p-Terphenyl and it's $165 for 100 grams of scintillation grade. That's a lot of crystal, and the dopant is $64 for 100mg. While that's a lot more expensive than platinum, it's a dopant - you only need a tiny amount in a crystal, on the order of .05%. 100mg of dopant can tint 200g of p-Terphenyl.

Applications? It will revolutionize microwave comms and broadcast links. Microwave tower links are everywhere but the problem is there are so many and interference is a huge issue. A tower-to-tower maser link is not going to be as prone to spreading and causing interference and doesn't require the power of current microwave links. Broadcast and comms engineers are already salivating at the prospects. And that's just one application.

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