2019 02 19

Lithuanians Dictate Trends in Laser Technology

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The recent 8th Europhoton Conference in Barcelona once again devoted a lot of attention to the future of a new method known as fiber laser technology. It opens up possibilities for manufacturing ultrashort pulse fiber lasers fast and at a low cost. This method was developed by Lithuanian scientists.

Conquering the World

“The heart of the laser – the oscillator – must function at an impeccably stable rhythm. Up to now, the global scientific community had no solution for this issue. This is why we were very motivated to create a generator for incredibly short impulses that could essentially address all of these issues and become the best in the world,” explains the inventor of the technology, Dr. Kęstutis Regelskis of the Fiber Laser Laboratory at the Centre for Physical Science and Technology (FTMC).

The new method of ultrashort light pulse generation and the generator were patented. Now, an improved version of the generator has been commercialised. A company called Integrali Skaidulinė Optika was founded for this purpose.

“We have ambitions of conquering the world with this product,” assures Nikolajus Gavrilinas, director and founder of UAB Integrali Skaidulinė Optika, “At present, the best lasers are manufactured and tested for three to five months at least. In this case, a generator can be assembled and working well within 15 minutes. Besides, it is reliable and long-lasting because it doesn’t have any deprecating components. This is especially important in industry equipment, which has to function 24/7. Its an uninterrupted process that goes on for years”.

Because of its unique properties, reliability, long-lasting build, high-energy impulses, parametric flexibility and low cost, the Lithuanian-made ultrashort pulse generator has an incredibly broad possibilities for applicability and commercialisation. As pointed out by Dr. Regelskis, a report published by Allied Market Research has the fiber laser market reaching an estimated value of 3.113 billion dollars by 2022.  Three fifths of this market is occupied by ultrashort – picosecond and femtosecond – pulse fiber lasers.  The heart of these laser could very well be the ultrashort pulse fiber generators proposed by the Lithuanians.

Up to a Trillionth of a Second

“We use regular lasers that radiate visible light, however, the radiation of our lasers is so powerful that they speed up the electrons in a material to create x-rays,” explains Dr. Artūras Plukis, head of the FTMC Laboratory for Experimental Nuclear Physics.

The advantage of laser-induced X-radiation is the duration of the femtosecond impulse. A similar duration can be produced using colliders such as the one at the European nuclear research centre CERN or with smaller colliders. However, with femtosecond lasers, a system that corresponds to a 100-meter-long collider can simply be created on top of a desk.

“X-rays can arouse the material so that it shines its own colour, its own x-rays, and you can see its composition. You can also produce a photographic image of a trillionth of a second, for example, capture what happens during laser exposure, see the actual explosion of the material,” reveals the researcher.

The scientific experiments being conducted in an attempt to create an intense light source and high-quality x-rays have great prospects. The final compact device, which would be used for material analysis, could be useful for business.

Over the past several years, laser-induced x-radiation generated a lot of interest precisely because of its ultrashort impulse duration. Another reason behind this interest is linked to particle physics. That is the possibility of generating not just x-radiation, but radiation of even greater energy, gamma quants and speed up protons. For example, CERN is conducting an experiment on how to shorten a 27-kilometre-long collider to the length of a laser that could fit in a room and collide particles with greater energy.

Laser Scouts

Professor Mikas Vengris, a scientist of the Laser Research Centre at Vilnius University (VU), emphasises that VU laser sciences is balanced between knowledge-generation, fundamental research, the application of ideas that could be of interest to business and the development of new lasers.

“We are scouts that are sent on the lookout in unknown scientific territory with the aim of ascertaining which ideas are productive and which aren’t. We want to find interesting fields and interesting new phenomena that could be important in developing the technology of the future,” says the researcher.

For example, Professor Audrius Dubietis’ most successful Ultrafast Non-Linear Optics Group conducts research on light that travels through translucent materials. Their work has revealed very interesting and so far not entirely understood phenomena. The light fields accessed by laser are so intense that the material changes its properties and begins to affect the light coming through it. As Professor Vengris jokes, the light tickles itself as it travels through the material and laughs.

The ideas that emerged out of the work of the VU High-Intensity Laser Physics Group were used to create laser for Extreme Light Infrastructure (ELI). As part of a European project, several powerful systems are being built in Romania, Hungary and the Czech Republic. The Lithuanian laser company Šviesos Konversija and Ekspla created SYLOS, a laser system, for the ELI laboratory in Hungary. Professor Vengris says that it is the big brother of the prototype that stands in the VU Laboratory for High-Intensity Laser Physics. The laser prototype was created by Dr. Arūnas Varanavičius and his colleagues for the high-intensity laser system Naglis.

“Right now our research is focused on working this prototype and creating an even better new laser. We’re looking ahead to the future again and trying to figure out what laser technology can up the level to an even greater intensity. We are crossing research on laser physics with research on optical components of lasers,” reveals Professor Vengris, the project lead.

In the Laser Nanophotonics Group, researchers under the joint lead of Professor Roaldas Gadonas and Dr. Mangirdas Malinauskas, are shaping three-dimensional micro- and nanostructures in transparent mediums using direct laser writing. These structure can be applied in the areas of micrometric optics, photonics and textile engineering.

According to Professor Vengris, Dr. Malinauskas, one of the most productive and prominent laser scientists today, has been invited to chair laser nanophotonics sessions in some of the largest global laser conferences that are hosted in parallel with industry fairs, such as Photonics West in San Francisco (USA) and Cleo Europe in Munich (Germany).

With Global Giants

The VU Laser Radiation and Material Interaction Group headed by Professor Valdas Sirutkaitis has many research areas in common with the laboratories of the FTMC Laser Technology Department under the leadership of Dr. Gediminas Račiukaitis. For example, both are actively studying microstructures – also known as microlaboratories on glass.

“We use laser instruments to create microsensors with the aim of using them as products of mass production that would be chemically sensitive and for which we would need very little of the material being studied,” explains Professor Vingris.

Photonic elements used for controlling light itself are also actively being studied. According to the scientist, the electronics industry produces many relevant tasks that require lasers of incredible precision.

Developed by Professor Sirutkaitis, a traditionally strong area of expertise for the VU Laser Research Centre is the testing of standardised optical elements based on their parametric measurements.  A methodologist commercialised the tests, which are now conducted by UAB Lidaris, a startup founded by Dr. Andrius Melninkaitis. His customers are all of the world’s largest manufacturers and retailers of optics and optical elements.

The laser spectroscopy equipment created by VU researchers is used on a daily basis in the world’s laboratories for measurements in the field of material science – it has now become an entire line of Šviesos Konversija products. From a joint material processing project carried out in partnership with UAB Altechna emerged the company Workshop of Photonics. The VU Laser Research Centre participated in the development of technology that is now commercialised as well – a laser workstation for micromachining materials is now the main product retailed by Workshop of Photonics in the international market.

UAB Femtika, another small but successful company founded by the employees of the VU Laser Research Centre, also has its sights set on the international market. Femtika’s area of expertise is the commercialisation of nanophotonic technology. The relatively young company manufactures and sells microscopic objects as well workstations and lasers.

Curated by the Agency for Science, Innovation and Technology (MITA), OPEN R&D Lithuania unites the country’s universities, research institutes, science and technology parks and open access centres, helping Lithuanian researchers developing advanced technologies meet entrepreneurs from Lithuania and beyond and encouraging their cooperation.In order to help businesses find what they need among a vast array of R&D services, MITA set up the Contact Centre. An emailed enquiry is enough to solicit an answer as to where a business should refer to next. Network facilitators will help organisations find business and research contacts and assist them in becoming a partner.

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