Electricity can now be bent with lasers, using a technique based on a strange principle of physics. Researchers found they can use lasers to direct the path of electricity, causing the energy to curve and even travel around objects.
Lightning strikes can be controlled, to an extent, by using lasers. However, the bolts cannot be directed where desired. By directing lightning, engineers could possibly collect and harness the energy coming from the powerful discharges.
As electricity races from one terminal to another, the path of the energy is erratic, causing sparks. Electricity travels through the path of least resistance. However, local variations in the air can create a chaotic pattern.
Researchers previously found they could narrow the path of electric sparks by creating a channel of ionized air, acting like metal within an insulated wire, carrying the electricity. However, these channels were traditionally straight. A new technique demonstrated how these ionized pathways could be curved, allowing the creation of crescent-shaped arcs.
Bessel beams and some other lasers can be made to bend, offering a means of directing the new electricity-guiding mechanism. These laser beams travel along a parabolic curve, the same type of path followed by an object falling to Earth. Amazingly, if the very center of the beam is blocked while the rest of the beam continues around a barrier, the beam will continue, with a rebuilt core.
Electricity is carried along the curved path even after encountering a barrier, due to this self-healing property of the channel. For now, the curved paths are just a small fraction of an inch across, but even these distances could be used for in welding and other small industrial purposes.
Development of this technique could lead to the ability to precisely target electricity in directed beams. This could be used in industry, defense applications, and more.
"What we've show is that a laser, especially a Bessel beam, can allow us to direct an arc along a set path. Now we want to see what we can do with that; we're next going to try to move it along an L-shape," Matteo Clerici of the Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique in Quebec and lead author of an article announcing the new technique, said.
Controlling electricity, shaping its path and directing its energy, could have numerous possible uses in the future, including targeted jamming of electronic signals.
Discovery of how to make electricity bend around curves was published in the journal Science Advances.
Photo: Pawel Pacholec | Flickr