The chemical laser that was developed at BGU opens up new and less expensive possibilities for the future use of chemical laser technology.The U.S. security establishment and defense community has taken notice of a recent achievement of the Department of Physics at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev – the development of an iodine chemical laser with a record efficiency level.

In the year-end issue of Aerospace America, the journal of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, which lists the achievements of the past year in the areas of science and technology with implications for the air and space field, the BGU Chemical Oxygen-Iodine Laser is noted as one of the significant breakthroughs of 2003.

The journal notes that the chemical laser that was developed at BGU opens up new and less expensive possibilities for the future use of chemical laser technology.

The head of the research team at BGU, Professor Zamik Rosenwaks explained to ISRAEL21c, that laser development is moving ahead in a number of countries, including the U.S. Russia, China, Japan and Germany.

However, in these countries, most of the lasers being developed are extremely large in size. Because the Israeli work is being done in a university laboratory, they have kept it small – and this limitation has become an advantage.

“The big powers are building big machines. But the relative small size of what we have developed allows greater flexibility in changing the structure of the laser, and a deeper understanding the optimal parameters and quick introduction of new developments in is operation – as well as its increased efficiency,” stressed Rosenwaks.

The Israeli researchers have the advantage of being able to more easily and cheaply study changes and add improvements to their laser. “We can easily change components and do a lot of diagnostics, to really monitor how it behaves and so on. By that means, we have been able to devise a better, more efficient device,” Rosenwaks added.

By efficiency, Rosenwaks explains that his team has been able to produce more laser power using a given amount of chemical reagents.

The Israeli-developed laser uses nitrogen as a diluent, instead of helium, which is usually used in chemical lasers. Nitrogen, Rosenwaks pointed out, is cheaper than helium in most countries.

In order to move into practical applications, “it is important to operate a laser cheaply, and to use it more efficiently, to get use more power for smaller amount of chemicals,” said Rosenwaks.

Rosenwaks, who holds the Helen and Sanford Family Diller Chair in Chemical Physics at BGU, and who is currently on sabbatical at Oxford University in Great Britain, stresses that he and his colleagues are solely interested in scientific investigation, and further understanding and developing laser technology.

However, he is aware of the many industries around the world carefully watching their research and preparing to put it to work for practical industrial and defense application.

Industrial applications that have been discussed involve an alternative form of drilling for oil, large-scale welding and cutting, and cutting and clearing debris in the aftermath of an earthquake.

The American interest stems from the lasers’ potential military application as an anti-missile weapon, in the form of an airborne laser, known as ABL.

The U.S. military is developing a system in which Boeing jets would carry a mounted laser system and patrol territory from which there is a missile threat. Flying above 40,000 feet, the airplane would carry a monitoring system that would be able to detect when a missile was being put into the “boost phase” before launch. Then, hopefully, while the missile would still be vulnerable, the laser could be aimed and sent to destroy it.