It sounds like a weapon from a bad sci-fi movie, but pig lasers are actually real.
Not only are pig lasers real, but they are being developed by scientists at Harvard University. It turns out that the properties of pig fat cells make those cells a great choice for creating cellular lasers, the scientists report in a paper published in the journal Nature Photonics.
The key to turning a cell into a laser is injecting light into a sphere. Because of the physical properties of the light, confining it within a tiny sphere results in a focused beam of laser light.
This same group of researchers has made tiny lasers out of human cells in the past, but in this more recent study they show that pig fat fat cells work even better for this purpose. Human cells must be placed within an optical cavity that does a lot of the heavy lifting.
Pig fat cells, on the other hand, contain relatively large and almost perfectly spherical bits of fat that allow these cells to emit laser beams without the need for an additional optical cavity. All the researchers have to do is add a fluorescent dye to the cells and touch them with an illuminated optical fiber to essentially charge them up.
Cells that are not naturally as well-suited for shooting out lasers as pig cells can be adapted to emit lasers by injecting them with droplets of oil, the researchers found. They were even able to make lasers of different colors and tunings by adding different fluorescent dyes and microscopic polystyrene beads, respectively. In combination, these techniques let the researchers create about enough unique laser tags to represent each individual cell in the human body.
The lasers are not nearly as useful as they are simply "very cool," as Russ Algar of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, who was not involved in the work, told MIT's Technology Review. However, Seok Hyun Yun of Harvard Medical School, the senior author of the paper, hopes to incorporate these cellular lasers into research tools, sensors or even as part of drug treatment.
Photo: Lis S. | Flickr