Scientists may be close to making one of your childhood fantasies a reality. A team from the University of St Andrews in Scotland say they’ve developed a thin film organic laser-emitting layer that can work on almost any surface. The researchers even added it to a contact lens that could sit on your eye. Firing lasers from your eyes might be a thing very soon. They won’t vaporize bad guys, but a laser is a laser.
The laser emitters are basically stickers consisting of an organic semiconducting polymer similar to the flexible OLED displays in smartphones and TVs. The membrane is only 1/5,000th of a millimeter thick, and it comes close to theoretical limits in weight and thickness for laser emission. They’re also durable enough to integrate with other devices, hence the contact lenses.
You’ve probably seen the warnings all over lasers not to point them at your eye. So, surely putting a laser in your eye would be a bad idea, right? The team thought about this before they even suggested the possibility. The laser output from the membrane is of low enough intensity that it won’t damage your retina. Of course, they haven’t stuck it in a person’s eye yet. As a test run, they used a cow eye to test the contact lens laser (see above).
The laser doesn’t need a battery, which is handy if you’re going to have it stuffed in your eye. Instead, the semiconducting polymer fluoresces when exposed to light. That’s what powers the laser.
Of course, the membrane lasers could operate in environments other than the human eye. The team also build the lasers into a £5 note where it could do much the same job. It generates a scannable laser barcode that authenticates the bill and prevents counterfeiting.
This all raises the question: What do you do with a laser in your eye? The researchers showed that the membrane could be tuned to produce a specific pattern of lines and wavelengths by adjusting the grating structures. That makes it sort of like a barcode. That could allow for advanced biometric ID for people wearing laser contacts. In the future, you could also imagine contact lens lasers as part of augmented reality systems.
The main impediment to magical future laser eyes is that this is a static system. Light equals laser emission. There’s no programmability, so changing the laser behavior means fabricating a new membrane. Still, it’s a laser fit for your eye.