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Nobel Laureate and Laser Inventor Charles Townes Passes 73

An anonymous reader writes Charles Hard Townes, a professor emeritus of physics at the University of California, Berkeley, who shared the 1964 Nobel Prize in Physics for invention of the laser and subsequently pioneered the use of lasers in astronomy, died early Tuesday in Oakland. He was 99. "Charlie was a cornerstone of the Space Sciences Laboratory for almost 50 years,” said Stuart Bale, director of the lab and a UC Berkeley professor of physics. “He trained a great number of excellent students in experimental astrophysics and pioneered a program to develop interferometry at short wavelengths. He was a truly inspiring man and a nice guy. We’ll miss him.”

The DHS's Latest Investment: Terahertz Laser Scanners 169

MrSeb writes "It seems like every time I set foot in an airport, there is some new machine I need to stand in, walk through, or put my shoes on. The argument can be made that much of this is security theater — an effort to just make things look safe. However, if a new kind of laser-based molecular scanner lives up to its promise and finds its way into airports as planned, it could actually make a difference. A company called Genia Photonics has developed a programmable picosecond laser that is capable of spotting trace amounts of a variety of substances. Genia claims that the system can detect explosives, chemical agents, and hazardous biological substances at up to 50 meters. This device relies on classic spectroscopy; just a very advanced form of it. In the case of Genia's scanner, it is using far-infrared radiation in the terahertz band. This is why the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is so keen on getting it into airports. Understandably, some are calling foul on the possible privacy concerns, but this technology is halfway to a Star Trek tricorder."
Hardware Hacking

DIY Laser Pistol Shoot 1MW Blasts 284

An anonymous reader writes "It doesn't get cooler than this — a German hacker put together a 1MW laser pistol capable of shooting straight through a razor blade with a single pulse. Quoting: 'Fitted with a Q-switched Nd:YAG laser, it fires off a 1 MW blast of infrared light once the capacitors have fully charged. The duration of the laser pulse is somewhere near 100ns, so he was unable to catch it on camera, but its effects are easily visible in whatever medium he has fired upon.'" Update: 03/17 18:22 GMT by T : Too bad; turns out it's "only" 1KW, rather than 1MW. I still want one.

Set Free Your Inner Jedi (Or Pyro) 463

sirgoran writes "We've all thought about being the hero fighting off evil-doers and saving the day ever since we first saw Star Wars. The folks at Wicked Lasers have now brought that a little closer to reality with their latest release: a 1-Watt blue diode laser that can set skin and other things on fire. From an article at Daily Tech, where they talk about the dangers of such a powerful laser: 'And here's the best (or worst) part — it can set people (or things) on fire. Apparently the laser is so high-powered that shining it on fleshy parts will cause them to burst into flames. Of course it's equally capable of blinding people.' The thing that caught my eye was the price: $200. I wonder if they'll be able to meet the demand, since (if it works as advertised) this will be on every geek's Christmas list."
The Military

Directed Energy Weapon Downs Ballistic Missile 297

A**masher writes "In a test off the Califoria coast late last night, Boeing's Airborne Laser successfully destroyed a sub-launched ballistic missile. 'This was the first directed energy lethal intercept demonstration against a liquid-fuel boosting ballistic missile target from an airborne platform,' reported the Missile Defense Agency. It should be noted that destroying a liquid-fueled ballistic missile is generally considered easier than killing a solid-fueled equivalent due to the relative fragility of the fueling and other systems."

The Texas Petawatt Laser 174

Roland Piquepaille notes the hype surrounding what the University of Texas at Austin is calling the world's most powerful laser. During a tenth of a femtosecond this laser is 2,000 times more powerful than all the power plants in the US, and is brighter than sunlight on the surface of the Sun. On his own blog Roland points out that UT's is not the first petawatt laser; that distinction belongs to a system installed at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in 1996.
Sun Microsystems

Sun Turns to Lasers to Speed Up Computer Chips 130

alphadogg writes to mention that Sun is attempting to move from the typical design of multiple small chips back to a unified single-wafer design. "The company is announcing today a $44 million contract from the Pentagon to explore replacing the wires between computer chips with laser beams. The technology, part of a field of computer science known as silicon photonics, would eradicate the most daunting bottleneck facing today's supercomputer designers: moving information rapidly to solve problems that require hundreds or thousands of processors."

Long computations which yield zero are probably all for naught.