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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Lasers lasers everywhere

A $7.5 million federal grant will be used at the UA to study the effects of a specialized laser on the atmosphere.

Jerry Moloney, director of Arizona Center for Mathematical Sciences, is leading a team from the UA.

The Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative is awarded to high-profile basic research which may impact the Department of Defense in the future.

“”This particular MURI award was the only one to the state of Arizona with an Arizona university lead,”” Moloney said.

Miroslav Kolesik, an associate research professor for the College of Optical Sciences and another leader of the team, say the project is a continuation of many, but now there are more teams working on it.

“”The general area of this project (is) what I like to call extreme optics,”” Kolesik said.

The focus of the study is to launch intense laser pulses into the atmosphere that can be used to detect molecules of gas over distances of up to 30 kilometers.

“”We propose to use sophisticated mathematical methods to derive new equations that correctly capture the physics, implement these in large-scale computer simulations and use the outcomes to design new classes of laser beams that can propagate over multi-kilometer distances in air,”” Moloney said.

The UA team sends pulses into the atmosphere that can ionize molecules in the air to create plasma, which behaves like a conducting wire.

“”This plasma has the potential to initiate or direct lightning strikes,”” Moloney said. “”Or detect targets at a remote point (called Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy). Another dramatic physical process that occurs is white light, or super-continuum generation. This allows one to create a remote light source that can act as an artificial star for astronomers when correcting for turbulence, or again for detecting molecules at distances of around 30 kilometers vertically in the atmosphere.””

Moloney used his expertise in both mathematics and physics to determine the best process for the project.

“”These beams are very intense; we have to be careful not to destroy special equipment,”” Kolesik said. “”The (other teams)  will be translating the mathematics into simulations that we can use computers to predict effects. We are working with such extreme conditions, that even every measurement is critical.””

Moloney’s passion is cited as one of the main reasons the project is now in trials and not on paper.

“”What he is doing, again with a team, is taking this knowledge that could’ve just ended up on pieces of paper and published into practical use,”” said Leslie Tolbert, UA vice president for research. “”‘What are all the things we could do with these pulse lasers? There is this huge set of possibilities out there. What if I put together a team that lets me address them directly, instead of just sort of handing things off?’ That’s what he did and he got the funding, so that means he gets to move forward in this really collaborative project.””

Moloney and his team will be joined by professors from Marburg, Germany; Boulder, Colorado; University of Central Florida;Cornell University;Temple University and the Colorado School of Mines.

“”It’s about people working together in teams,”” said Tolbert. “”Sometimes the teams have to involve people outside of the university, sometimes they’re within, but more and more these big multi-million dollar projects require that you work in teams.””

Both Moloney and Tolbert stressed the student roles in UA research.

“”There are some opportunities for semester project support for undergraduate seniors and juniors with an appropriate background in physics and mathematics,”” Moloney said.


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