Magazine article Insight on the News

Blue Lasers, Big Money: New Lasers Promise an Array of Bright Products from Wall-Sized Television to 'Personal Radar.'

Magazine article Insight on the News

Blue Lasers, Big Money: New Lasers Promise an Array of Bright Products from Wall-Sized Television to 'Personal Radar.'

Article excerpt

New lasers promise an array of bright products from wall-sized televisions to `personal radar.'

The venerable laser, now in commercial use some 30 years, has gone from a weapon of movie villains (remember Goldfinger?) to mundane components of home copiers and compact discs. But researchers are working to perfect two new types of lasers with lucrative promise for the electronics industry.

Blue lasers, cousins to the more familiar red laser, can read and store larger quantities of data -- about four times as much, according to Leo Holberg, a laser specialist with the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colo. While blue lasers have been around for years and several well-established methods exist for producing them, they have required two factors that render them impractical for household use: high energy consumption and high temperatures.

Still, work has persisted because the economic potential is enormous -- imagine a full-length movie with supersharp picture, surround sound and eight separate voice tracks, each in a different language, all on a single CD. Another reason that room-temperature blue lasers are desirable: Combined with conventional red and hybrid green, they can produce white light and any visible color in between. This could lead to the elimination of lightbulbs -- both incandescent and fluorescent -- a development equivalent to the replacement of vacuum tubes with transistors.

White lasers also could point the way to the Holy Grail of television: full-color, wall-size, flat-screen technology for home, school and office. Such prospects have not been lost on the consumer-electronics industry. Virtually every major company has a blue-laser program in some stage of development, according to Holberg. As yet, however, no one has produced a commercially feasible device.

That soon may change, thanks to a breakthrough by a team at Nichia Chemical Industries, a medium-sized Japanese firm that has achieved more than its share of innovations. According to a report in a recent issue of Science, Nichia researchers have experimented successfully with a thin film of gallium nitride, or GaN. …

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