Although laser technology naturally heats up matter, a group of U.S. scientists cooled liquids with laser in world first. The team reported that they were able to cool down a liquid by 36 degrees F or 20 degrees Celsius with help from an infrared laser and a nanocrystal.
The newly-found method may be later used for precision cooling in various fields including medicine, engineering, and technology, researchers hope.
Peter Pauzauskie, senior researcher involved in the study and materials science and engineering expert at University of Washington, said that his team was able to refrigerate liquids with laser under normal conditions for the first time ever.
Pauzauskie admitted that his team was not so sure whether the experiment would be a success because liquids such as water usually warm when in contact with a source of light. But the method used was unique in the world.
The team designed a nano-crystal and placed it in a drop of water. Next they directed a blue-shifted laser beam into the crystal’s direction. The atoms in the tiny crystal absorbed the photons in the beam.
When the atom releases the photon, it is at a higher energy level than the photon that entered. This carries heat away, effectively cooling the crystal and the water around it.
But the photons that are released by atoms have a higher energy level than those that enter. This is how heat manages to escape and the crystal and the liquid around it are cooled. Researchers noted that the escaped energy during the experiments had a reddish-green glow.
Study authors said that their greatest challenge was to design a tool and find a method to measure the temperature within the crystal with hints provided by the light that trapped it.
UW engineers believe that their work can have various applications. For instance, microprocessors could be shielded against overheating. In medical research, scientists could use the technique to freeze a single nerve cell and observe how the brain rewires with no harm done to the nearby tissue. Cells could be put on slow motion while dividing or repairing, thus helping scientists better understand how these processes occur.
Pauzauskie noted that scientists worldwide are eager to learn how cells divide and take a deeper insight into enzymes and other molecules. But to date, there wasn’t a way to refrigerate these microscopic particles to analyze them further.
“Using laser cooling, it may be possible to prepare slow-motion movies of life in action,”
Laser cooling has a major advantage – it is extremely precise. So, you don’t have to refrigerate an entire cell, which may prove damaging or could alter its behavior, but only a tiny fraction.
A research paper on the technique was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Image Source: Flickr
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