Engineering prof. lauded for laser physics research

BY TYLER BOERSEN
Daily Staff Reporter
Published January 24, 2002

The University has recognized an Engineering professor for his work with lasers by asking him to give the 2002 Henry Russel lecture, the highest honor the University bestows upon a senior faculty member.

Gerard Mourou has been studying and building lasers much of his life, and is internationally distinguished as a leader in laser physics.

"It is a very, very great honor for me," Mourou said from his office at the Center for Ultrafast Optical Science, the research lab he founded and has directed for the last 10 years.

The center, funded primarily by grants from the National Science Foundation, has pioneered lasers that utilize extremely short impulses. Because of the duration of the impulses, these lasers yield tremendous power and great accuracy.

"We are in a femto-second time scale where the pulse travels a distance only a fraction of a piece of hair," Mourou said. "That means that if power is energy divided by time, even if we have an extremely small amount of energy like one joule, the time is so short that you can produce an extremely high power."

Lasers developed at the laboratory are currently producing power in tens of terawatts. In comparison, Mourou said it would take 1000 Hoover dams producing at 1 gigawatt to generate a single terawatt.

"It"s not that they are producing a lot of energy," he said, "but the energy is produced in a time so short that power is enormous. For the first time we can reach intensity levels only reproducible in astrophysics the stars."

Researchers hope that, due to the large power in these short laser bursts, the intense magnetic field will be harnessed to reduce particle accelerators like the three kilometer CERN laboratory into mere centimeters. Already, the lasers have reduced the size of high-intensity operations to sit on a tabletop, Mourou said.

"We have taken science that was done in very, very large government labs and brought it back to the university level," he said.

Because of the extreme precision of these lasers, researchers have found a very lucrative application in eye surgery, and have conducted the first cornea transplant. Other applications include X-ray equipment that can depict the smallest blood vessels, and the ability to vastly improve communications and computer technologies. Mourou said that military applications are not likely.

College of Engineering Dean Stephen Director lauded Mourou for his impressive accomplishments.

"He is an outstanding scholar who has made a significant contribution to laser technology. He is recognized worldwide, and has brought considerable recognition to the University of Michigan," Director said.

Mourou, the A.D. Moore Distinguished University Professor of Engineering and Computer Science, will deliver his lecture at the Michigan League on March 12 at 4 p.m. He plans to describe the techniques developed and their applications in engineering, physics, and medicine.