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DARPA seeks to speed up lasers

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency invites the scientific community to ramp up development of high-speed lasers, citing some fantastic applications yet to come.

An example of a laser frequency comb. ESO

Have the super-scientific brain needed to develop laser technology for enhancing everything from radar scanning to X-ray machines? The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency wants you, doc.

DARPA this week called on radiation experts and other brainiacs to propose methods of efficiently controlling the electromagnetic spectrum by using ultrafast, pulsed lasers operating at optical wavelengths. It's part of DARPA's program in ultrafast laser and engineering, or PULSE.

DARPA suggests pulsed lasers -- also known as frequency combs because they are composed of thousands of individual lasers separated in frequency like a comb's teeth -- could change how future U.S. Navy ships use radar, with a new system that enables nearby vessels to function as one large networked radar capable of enhanced range and clarity.

Another idea is that ultrafast lasers could assist in 3D body scans, snapping images all the way down to a single cell -- including the nucleus, ribosomes, and other components. Among many other observatory breakthroughs, a 3D X-ray would allow greater efficiency when testing trial drugs on human patients.

"PULSE is a basic research program initially focused on component technology. Our primary concern isn't demonstrating a specific application, rather making these tools a reality at a practical scale by overcoming current obstacles like size and thermal management," Jamil Abo-Shaeer, DARPA program manager for PULSE, said in a statement. "The range of potential applications is enormous. Literally any technology that uses electromagnetic radiation could be impacted."