Move over Ben Franklin: laser detonators electrify scientists

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – When Benjamin Franklin made his first lightning rod within the 1750s after famously experimenting with flying a kite with a swap hooked up throughout a thunderstorm, the American inventor had no means of realizing that it might stay cutting-edge. for hundreds of years.

Scientists are actually shifting to enhance an 18th-century innovation with Twenty first-century know-how—a system utilizing high-energy lasers that will revolutionize lightning safety. Researchers mentioned Monday they’ve efficiently used a laser pointed into the sky from the highest of Mount Santis in northeastern Switzerland to deflect lightning strikes.

With additional improvement, this Laser Lightning Rod can shield important infrastructure together with energy vegetation, airports, wind farms and launch pads. Lightning causes billions of {dollars} in harm to buildings, communication methods, energy traces, and electrical tools yearly whereas additionally killing hundreds of individuals.

The tools was hauled to the highest of the mountain at about 8,200 ft (2,500 metres), some elements utilizing a gondola and others by helicopter, and centered into the sky above 400 ft (124 metres). A tower belonging to the telecommunications supplier Swisscom (SCMN.S)one of many European buildings most affected by lightning.

In two-month trials in 2021, it fired intense laser pulses — 1,000 occasions a second — to redirect lightning strikes. All 4 strikes had been efficiently intercepted when the system was lively. Within the first case, the researchers used two high-speed cameras to report the redirection of the lightning’s path greater than 160 ft (50 meters) away. Three extra are documented with completely different information.

“We now have proven for the primary time that lasers can be utilized to information pure lightning,” mentioned physicist Aurelien Houard of the Laboratory of Utilized Optics at Ecole Polytechnique in France, coordinator of the Laser Lightning Rod challenge and lead writer of the analysis revealed within the journal. Nature photonics.

Lightning is a high-voltage electrical discharge between a cloud and the bottom, inside a cloud or between clouds.

“In its trajectory, the extraordinary laser can generate lengthy columns of plasma within the ambiance with electrons, ions, and particles of scorching air,” Howard mentioned, referring to positively charged particles known as ions and negatively charged particles known as electrons.

“Right here we now have proven that these plumes of plasma can act as lightning guides,” Howard added. “It is vital as a result of it is step one towards laser-based lightning safety that may really attain tons of of meters (yards) or 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) excessive with ample laser energy.”

The laser is the scale of a giant automobile and weighs greater than 3 tons. It makes use of lasers from German industrial machine maker Trumpf Group. With College of Geneva scientists additionally enjoying a key function, the experiments had been carried out in collaboration with the airline ArianeGroup, a European three way partnership between Airbus SE (AIR.PA) and Safran SA (SAF.PA).

This idea, first proposed within the Nineteen Seventies, has been profitable in laboratory situations, however up to now not within the area.

Lightning rods, courting again to Franklin’s time, are metallic rods on prime of buildings, related to the bottom with wire, that conduct lightning electrical expenses to the bottom. Its limitations embrace defending solely a small space.

Howard predicted that 10 to fifteen years of further work could be required earlier than the Laser Lightning Rod would come into frequent use. One concern is to keep away from interference with plane in flight. In reality, air visitors within the space got here to a halt when the researchers used the laser.

“In reality, there’s a potential downside with utilizing the system with air visitors within the space as a result of the laser can harm a pilot’s eye if he goes previous the laser beam and appears down,” Howard mentioned.

Reporting by Will Dunham; Enhancing by Lisa Shumaker

Our requirements: Thomson Reuters Belief Ideas.

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