• Scientists create laser similar to Star Wars light sabre

      A team of medical and physics experts developed a groundbreaking technique that significantly improves laser accuracy to the point where cutting can be controlled to stop at a precise point — comparable to the idea of a Star Wars light sabre.



      Specifically, the team has demonstrated that they can stop the laser within 50 microns — or half the diameter of a human hair.

      “A major problem that’s really hindering laser application in major surgeries is that the light beam just keeps going,” said Dr. James Fraser of Queen’s University in Ontario, the physicist who developed the device.

      The density and power of the cut, however, would depend on the laser that the device is being applied to.

      Fraser explained that lasers are advantageous to mechanical drills or scalpels, in some situations, because they can focus on very tight spots and the intensity of the light is controllable.

      The procedure would be effective, for example, on surgeries that involve accessing the brain.

      Today, a surgeon would need to use a mechanical drill, something Fraser described as “physical hard labour.” He noted that reducing any physically exhausting aspects of a medical procedure is ideal, and that it would contribute to a doctor’s ability to perform mistake-free operations.

      “Though the surgeon would have to be in final control, you could imagine that this would allow a semi-robotic method for operations.”

      The team includes Queen’s PhD student Paul Webster, as well as Dr. Ben Leung, a former alumnus at the school who initially helped with the surgical application. Dr. Victor X.D. Yang of Ryerson University also helped with some medical direction.

      While a physical tool has a fixed length and size, lasers have the potential for serious implications such as jeopardizing a patient’s health if they cut too deeply.

      A successful advancement in this new device would solve that problem.

      The device is partially based off an imaging technique called “optical coherence tomography,” which is used to provide 3-D images of human retinas.

      Using this imaging technique, Fraser explained, they are able to see along the light beam that accompanies the cutting laser. They can get depth images from the incision and essentially, see below the surface.

      They called their adaptation “inline coherent imaging.”

      Fraser said the new device will hopefully allow a number of advancements, including: helping surgeons plan procedures ahead of time; completing procedures faster; reducing surgical complications; and improvements to post-operative implications.

      Although the most prominent uses for controlling the depth of laser cutting are surgical and clinical, Fraser said the team is “very excited about the potential industrial applications,” especially since compared to clinics it’s easier to get new technology into industries.

      “In a few weeks, we’ll be running industrially relevant processes,” Fraser said.

      Those will likely include further testing on laser cutting and laser welding, which, for instance, are important techniques when working with automotive components — an area that experiences the same depth issue as surgery.

      © Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald
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