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A Liquid Laser That Is Robust under Air and Tunable by Wind

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Researchers at the University of Tsukuba develop a tunable laser based on liquid droplets that can be inkjet-printed, and have a color that changes based on the shape, which may lead to cheaper and more flexible optical communication devices

Tsukuba, Japan—Scientists from the Tsukuba Research Center for Energy Materials Science at the University of Tsukuba demonstrated a simple method to produce ionic liquid microdroplets that work as flexible, long-lasting, and pneumatically tunable lasers. Unlike existing 'droplet lasers' that cannot operate under atmosphere, this new development may enable lasers that can be used in everyday settings.

Lotus plants are prized for their beauty, and have a remarkable self-cleaning property. Instead of flattening on the surface of a lotus leaf, water droplets will form near-perfect spheres and roll off, taking dust with them. This "lotus effect" is caused by microscopic bumps in the leaf. Now, a team of researchers at the University of Tsukuba have taken advantage of an artificial lotus effect to create liquid droplets that can act like lasers, while remaining stable for up to a month. Currently available 'droplet lasers' cannot be used under ambient conditions, since they will simply evaporate unless enclosed inside a container.

In this new research, an ionic liquid called 1-ethyl-3-methylimidazolium tetrafluoroborate (EMIBF4) was mixed with a dye that allows it to become a laser. This liquid was chosen because it evaporates very slowly and has a relatively large surface tension. Then, a quartz substrate is coated with tiny fluorinated silica nanoparticles to make the surface repel liquids. When the EMIBF4 is deposited on it from a pipette, the tiny droplets remain almost completely spherical. The researchers showed that the droplet could remain stable for 30 days at least.

"The desired morphological and optical properties of the droplet were predicted by mathematical calculations to remain even when exposed to gas convection," says first author Professor Hiroshi Yamagishi.

The shape and stability against evaporation allow the droplet to maintain an optical resonance when excited with a laser pumping source. Blowing nitrogen gas can shift the laser peaks in the range of 645 to 662 nm by slightly deforming the droplet shapes.

"This is, to our knowledge, the first liquid laser oscillator that is reversibly tunable by the gas convections," says Professor Yamagishi.

The laser droplet can also be used as a very sensitive humidity sensor or airflow detector. The researchers then employed a commercial inkjet printing apparatus equipped with a printer head that could work with a viscous liquid. The printed arrays of laser droplets worked without the need for further treatment.

The findings of this research indicate that the production is highly scalable and easy to perform, so that it can be readily applied to manufacture inexpensive sensor or optical communication devices. This research may lead to new airflow detectors or less expensive fiber-optics communications.

This work was supported by CREST (JPMJCR20T4) and ACT-X (JPMJAX201J) from Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST), Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (A) (JP16H02081), Scientific Research (C) (20K04297), Young Scientist (JP22K14656), and Fund for the Promotion of Joint International Research (Fostering Joint International Research(A)) (JP19KK0379), from Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS), New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO), Ogasawara foundation, The Kato Memorial Bioscience Foundation, and DFG: CRC 1375 NOA, HU2626/3-1, HU2626/5-1, and HU2626/6-1.

Original Paper

The work is published in Laser & Photonics Reviews as "Pneumatically Tunable Droplet Microlaser" at DOI: 10.1002/lpor.202200874


Assistant Professor YAMAGISHI Hiroshi
Professor YAMAMOTO Yohei

Faculty of Pure and Applied Sciences, University of Tsukuba

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