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Liquids Refrigerated With Laser For The First Time

A team of scientists at the University of Washington are the first to figure out how to make a laser refrigerate liquids in real-world conditions.

Since the first laser was invented in 1960, they are almost always used to give off heat, though researchers have been trying to make those concentrated beams of light refrigerate water and other liquids for decades.

The team, who published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, used an infrared laser to cool water by around 36 degrees Fahrenheit.

According to Peter Pauzauskie, UW assistant professor of materials science and engineering, and the lead author of the study:

Typically, when you go to the movies and see Star Wars laser blasters, they heat things up. This is the first example of a laser beam that will refrigerate liquids like water under everyday conditions. It was really an open question as to whether this could be done because normally water warms when illuminated.

The researchers hope the discovery could help industrial users “point cool” small areas with a focused point of light. One day, perhaps, microprocessors will use the process to cool specific components in computer chips to prevent overheating using a laser. Scientists could also use a laser to cool a specific part of a cell as it divides or repairs itself, slowing the process down and giving them the chance to see how these processes work. Or a single neuron in a network could be chilled, silencing it without damaging, allowing researches to see how other neurons bypass it and rewire themselves.

The team used an infrared light as its cooling laser because visible light could give cells a damaging “sunburn”, and they wanted the laser to have biological applications. The laser can refrigerate saline solution and cell culture media that is commonly used in genetic and molecular research.

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