Researchers reached a milestone June 17 when they generated 155 W of infrared light at 5 μm with their Free-Electron Laser (FEL), shortly after achieving first light. Scientists at the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility were aiming for 100 W but surpassed that twice in two attempts. Their work breaks the previous output record of 11 W, achieved by the Free Electron Laser Center at Vanderbilt University (Nashville, TN). The researchers hope to eventually increase the power to 1000 W.
The FEL was built over the last two years at a cost of about $22 million and is funded by the federal Department of Energy, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the Navy. Companies such as DuPont (Wilmington, DE), Northrop-Grumman Corp. (Los Angeles, CA), and Virginia Power (Richmond, VA) support the research, which they hope will have both industrial and scientific uses. Later this summer the Jefferson laboratory will conduct a test for DuPont to see if the FEL can be used to treat plastic or polyester surfaces. Lasers can be used to roughen the surface of a synthetic fabric to make it more easily absorb dyes and to give it a more-natural feel. Existing lasers, however, can cover only a small area of fabric in a given time. The FEL should work much faster and, because of the way it is built, remain in use 24 hours a day without overheating.
Virginia Power and steel-maker Armco (Pittsburgh, PA) want to test the FEL's capability for hardening the steel in turbines. Using a FEL to treat a turbine could extend the life of the turbine sevenfold. The laser can also be used for research in physics and materials science. The city of Newport News is hoping to attract industries that want to use the laser to a research park across from the Jefferson laboratory, once researchers can demonstrate the usefulness of FELs.
For downloadable photos and additional text, please consult http://www.jlab.org/FEL/FELpics/FirstLight/FirstLight.html.
Submitted: Wednesday, July 1, 1998 - 12:00am