Scientists Develop a Ceramic Laser Ideal for Cutting Composites

Scientists from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT) have developed a compact and powerful ceramic-based laser with applications in minimally traumatic and inexpensive laser surgical scalpels, and also for cutting and engraving composite materials.

Today, lasers are in consumer electronics devices, medicine, metallurgy, metrology, meteorology, and many other areas. Lasers are created by stimulated emission in an active medium, which could be a gas, liquid, crystal, or glass. The wavelength of a laser and the efficiency of converting energy into radiation are both dependent upon the parameters of the active medium.

Ivan Obronov, a researcher at MIPT, and his colleagues used a ceramic obtained from compounds of rare-earth elements – lutetium oxide with added thulium ions (Tm3+:Lu2O3). It was the thulium ions that enabled the ceramic to generate laser radiation.

Ceramics are a promising type of medium for lasers because they are produced by sintering powders into a polycrystalline mass. They are cheaper and easier to manufacture than single crystals, which is extremely important for mass adoption. In addition, it is easy to alter the chemical composition of ceramics, which in turn alters the laser properties.

The laser they developed converts energy into radiation with an efficiency of more than 50%, while other types of solid state lasers have an average efficiency of approximately 20%; it generates infrared radiation with a wavelength of about two microns (1966 and 2064 nanometres). The wavelength is what makes this laser so useful for medical purposes.

Ceramic lasers have a significant competitive advantage—they are cheaper to manufacture, simpler and more reliable, and approximately four times more compact than holmium lasers making them ideal for surgical use.

Another potential application of ceramic lasers is the composite industry. Widely used one-micron lasers are good at cutting metal, but polymers are practically transparent to them. A two-micron ceramic laser, on the other hand, can effectively cut and engrave plastics, such as composite materials.

Composites are increasingly being used to produce technological equipment such as aircraft components. The wing of the new Russian MS–21 airplane is almost entirely made of composites.