News Feature | August 19, 2021

Bright Ideas: 8/23/21 — Raytheon Outfits Army Stryker With Laser | Nuclear Fusion Ignition Gets Closer

By Abby Proch, Editor, Photonics Online

Rainbow Light Bulb Idea

The U.S. Army debuted its first combat-capable, laser-weaponized vehicle in early August. In testing, the laser-equipped Stryker prototype proved capable of performing lethal attacks on unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and rockets, artillery, and mortars (RAM), according to an Army news release.

The lasers will be produced by Raytheon after Northrup Grumman withdrew from a competition between the two, reports DefenseNews. The report claims that while Northrup Grumman tested its 50-kW laser last year, a fire broke out in the power and thermal management system. Repairs followed but ultimately weren’t enough to allow the laser to participate in the Directed Energy-Maneuver Short-Range Air Defense (DE M-SHORAD) Combat Shoot-Off over the summer.

Raytheon now is piggybacking on an existing primary contract with Kord (with the Army’s blessing) and is slated to outfit the vehicles going forward, says the report. Officials have called the laser-equipped Stryker a “brand new capability” and “a gateway to the future.”

In nuclear advancements, researchers got one step closer to achieving fusion ignition when they secured 1.3 megajoules (MJ) in a recent experiment, according to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). Researchers at the lab’s National Ignition Facility (NIF) focused a laser light “the size of three football fields onto a target the size of a BB.”

The hot spot it created, about the width of a single human hair, generated more than 10 quadrillion watts of fusion power for 100 trillionths of a second. The yield was eight times greater than that of an experiment conducted in spring 2021 and 25 times greater than that of a 2018 experiment. Plans are already underway to replicate the experiment in the coming months.

Meanwhile, researchers at Laval University (Canada) are exploring whether someone’s cell phone can serve as a personal breathalyzer. Researchers claim fog from a person’s breath cast upon a smartphone screen can be used to measure  alcohol content, according to TechXplore.

The anti-scratch layer of a cell phone screen serves as a planar waveguide and allows light from the phone display to be deflected when fog is present. Some of the light is coupled to the anti-scratch layer and travels toward a photodiode where the phone measures light intensity. As the fog evaporates, the light intensity signature weakens. With fog containing alcohol, the evaporation rate is faster than fog without it.

Researchers say the innovation could replace existing standalone breathalyzers or breathalyzer accessories, which they say are clunky, harder to mass produce and not very durable.

In quantum computing advancements, Xanadu and imec are developing the next generation of photonic qubits based on ultra-low loss silicon nitride (SiN) waveguides. Xanadu, a Canadian quantum computing company, is developing the quantum computer using photons to carry information, rather than electrons or ions, in hopes of providing scalability through optical networking, room temperature computation and the fabrication expertise of imec.

While photonic quantum computing typically relies on single photon sources from silicon waveguides, silicon nitride instead allows “squeeze states” to replace single photons as the primary source for synthesizing qubits. Xanadu anticipates the development will deliver a “more promising path to fault-tolerant quantum computing.”

In semiconductor news, researchers are exploring new use applications for quantum dots in semiconductors, according to Innovative Origins. Specifically, colloidal quantum dots, which operate in zero dimension and have discrete energy values, could be revolutionary to photovoltaics.

For example, quantum dots could be embedded in windowpanes to absorb infrared light and be converted into electrical energy. Applications abound in other disciplines, including sensor technology and optoelectronics, but exist on a spectrum of easily attainable to inherently problematic, say researchers.

In trade show news, SPIE Optics + Photonics hosted more than 1,300 attendees and 100-plus exhibitors at the first photonics trade show since early 2020. The San Diego-based show also welcomed 1,400 virtual participants. Organizers said participants relished the chance to network with each other in a face-to-face setting after a nearly two-year absence of in-person industry events.

Highlights include a panel discussion on AI, an outdoor SPIE award ceremony, insight into diversity and inclusion efforts in the astrophysics community, and new social events for first-time, Black, and LGBTQ+ attendees.

In renewable energy news, Oxford Photovoltaics has introduced innovation in solar photovoltaics (PV) where perovskite joins widely-used silicon to raise the rate of energy conversion, according to a company press release. Introducing perovskite achieves a world-record increase in practical efficiency limitation from 26% using silicon alone to 29.52% using both materials.  What’s more, Oxford PV points to perovskite’s low cost and ample accessibility as the reason it above other materials works best for tandem applications.

Meanwhile, Sheffield Hallam University (UK) researchers say infrared thermography can detect certain bacteria several hours before they’re noticeable in the visible spectrum. Traditional methods of detection do not give results in real result time, and so rapid microbiological methods (RMM) were introduced — including IR thermography. This quick and non-invasive method can detect metabolically active E. Coli and S. aureus at six hours, which researchers believe sets a precedent for more quickly and simply identifying early-stage bacterial growth.

Finally, in telecom news, Google has announced plans for a subsea fiber-optic cable that will provide service to Singapore, Japan, Guam, the Philippines, Taiwan and Indonesia. The cable, dubbed “Apricot,” will work alongside the previously announced “Echo,” which will provide a first-ever direct connection between the U.S. and Singapore, plus stopovers in Guam and Indonesia. Together, the two cables are expected to offer lower latency and more bandwidth as well as improved connectivity among the U.S., Southeast Asia, and North Asia.