Laser weapons don’t only exist in space battles and video games. They’re built and tested in at Clemson University.
The Defense Department recently awarded two Clemson University professors over $3.2 million in grants to develop the next generation of laser weapons.
Material science professor John Ballato received over $1.8 million to improve the materials used to focus lasers in fiber optic cables. His research takes regular fiber optic cable , made out of silica glass (like window glass), and pulls out the chemicals that weaken the laser. Ballato aims to find create a material that specifically focuses light into a stronger beam, “so that the laser can operate more efficiently which means it can reach a higher power.”
“The somewhat more obvious uses for those things are defensive,” Ballato said. “Somebody is shooting something at you, whether it is a missile or an RPG or something like that or a drone hovering overhead.”
Electrical engineering professor Lin Zhu also received a $1.2 million grant to learn how to power lasers more efficiently. Zhu’s research aims to increase the output of energy in common lasers used for surgery or machinery so they can damage larger targets. Those more common lasers vary in power from 10 to 100 watts, “but if you reach a 1000 watts or even 10,000 watts, 10 kilowatts then you can use that to probably destroy small fighters and a small ship,” he said.
The biggest problem Zhu aims to tackle with his research is how to keep a laser beam focused in a single direction after increasing its power ten to one-hundred times.