‘Real’ lasers can self-organize, adapt their structure and cooperate

Microparticles clustered around a Janus particle. The dashed line outlines the laser area and the pink/yellow lines show the tracks of various microparticles. Credit: Imperial College London

By mimicking the characteristics of living systems, self-organizing lasers could lead to new materials for sensing, computing, light sources, and displays.

While many man-made materials have advanced properties, they have a long way to go to combine the versatility and functionality of living materials that can be tailored to your situation. For example, in the human body, bones and muscles continually rearrange their structure and composition to better withstand changes in weight and activity level.

Now researchers at Imperial College London and University College London have demonstrated the first spontaneously self-organizing laser device, which can reconfigure itself when conditions change.

The innovation, reported in physics of natureIt will help enable the development of smart photonic materials capable of better mimicking the properties of biological matter, such as responsiveness, adaptation, self-healing and collective behavior.

Co-lead author Professor Riccardo Sapienza, from Imperial’s Department of Physics, says: “Lasers, which power most of our technologies, are designed from crystalline materials to have precise, static properties. We wondered if we could create a laser with the ability to combine structure and functionality, to reconfigure and cooperate as biological materials do”.

“Our laser system can reconfigure and cooperate, allowing a first step toward emulating the ever-evolving relationship between structure and functionality typical of living materials.”

'Real' lasers can self-organize, adapt their structure and cooperate

Credit: Imperial College London

Lasers are devices that amplify light to produce a special form of light. The self-assembling lasers in the team’s experiment consisted of microparticles dispersed in a liquid with a high “gain” — the ability to amplify light. Once enough microparticles come together, they can harness external energy to produce laser light.

An external laser was used to heat a “Janus” particle (a particle covered on one side with light-absorbing material), around which the microparticles gathered. The laser created by these clusters of microparticles could be turned on and off by changing the intensity of the external laser, which in turn controlled the size and density of the cluster.

The team also showed how the laser cluster could be transferred into space by heating different Janus particles, demonstrating the adaptability of the system. Janus particles can also collaborate, creating clusters that have properties beyond the simple addition of two clusters, such as changing their shape and increasing their laser power.

Co-lead author Dr Giorgio Volpe, from UCL’s Department of Chemistry, says: “Today, lasers are routinely used in medicine, telecommunications and also in industrial production. Incorporating lasers with similar properties to life will enable the development of robust, autonomous and durable next-generation materials and devices for sensing applications, non-conventional computing, new light sources and displays.”

Next, the team will study how to improve the autonomous behavior of the lasers to make them even more realistic. A first application of the technology could be for next-generation electronic inks for smart displays.

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More information:
Riccardo Sapienza, Self-organizing lasers from reconfigurable colloidal assemblies, physics of nature (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41567-022-01656-2. www.nature.com/articles/s41567-022-01656-2

Provided by Imperial College London

Citation: ‘Lifelike’ lasers can self-organize, adapt their structure, and cooperate (July 13, 2022) Retrieved July 13, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-07-life-like-lasers-self -organize-cooperate.html

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