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DARPA’s revolutionary quantum laser is unlike anything anyone’s seen before

WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF

What if you could glue light together? Using quantum mechanics that’s what DARPA’s doing to improve the capability of lasers.

 

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Researchers working with the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have been awarded a $1 million grant to create a prototype Quantum Laser unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. The laser will use quantum entanglement to essentially “glue” light particles together, the researchers explain, allowing them to create a more highly concentrated laser.

 

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The laser is expected to play an important role in future military operations, including satellite communications, mapping and tracking systems like LIDAR, as well as for targeting technologies in other military tech.

Typically, lasers work by stimulating electrons in various atoms to oscillate in the same pattern. When this happens, the electrons move to a low-energy state and release coherent light, which has a uniform wavelength and phase. That is then bounced between mirrors inside the device to create the concentrated laser beam. A quantum laser, though, would essentially pull the light particles together instead, entangling them completely.

 

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By using entangled photons, the researchers hope to create a more precise and stronger laser capable of firing over much greater distances and even in adverse conditions. This, of course, would allow a lot more versatility for military operations, which don’t always play out in the sunniest of circumstances and often see direct energy weapons systems having to try and punch their way through cloud cover. NASA has recently been testing new laser communication systems, and this type of quantum laser could help improve those even more.

When photons pass through the atmosphere, they can be damaged greatly. When they are entangled, as they would be with this new quantum laser, they’d still suffer some damage, but the photons would be able to protect each other somewhat, too, providing a more stable and higher energy output for the laser beam.

 

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The hope is that the tech will also extend to quantum computing and telecommunications. It could make satellite services more reliable, if we’re able to figure out how to create these quantum beams in space and then send them back down to Earth or vice versa. Further, the researchers say that figuring how entanglement is just the tip of the iceberg for what they may be able to accomplish with quantum mechanics like this.

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