Los Alamos National Laboratory

Los Alamos National Laboratory

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Lasers Are Cool—and Cooling

The first practical, all-optical, solid-state cryocooler with no moving parts is poised to revolutionize advanced imaging systems and other major technologies.
February 1, 2019
M&M’S

Experimental setup for laser-driven cooling to –138 degrees Celsius, using “anti-Stokes fluorescence” in an exceedingly pure and specially doped crystal (green). CREDIT: Alexander Albrecht/UNM

Energy is withdrawn from heat within a material; it is essentially a laser running in reverse.

Compared to heating, cooling is notoriously difficult and inefficient. It typically involves compressing and circulating a specialized refrigerant that draws heat away from one region and dumps it somewhere else (e.g., behind the fridge). The whole endeavor remains curiously old-fashioned, with all the groaning noise and rattling vibration one might expect from a process that essentially operates by 19th century plumbing. However, in cutting-edge laboratory science or in remote locations, such as onboard a spacecraft, rumbling plumbing just won’t cut it: the noise and vibration interfere with sensitive systems. Even in the most advanced existing cryocoolers, moving parts remain a significant drawback. Now, for the first time, moving parts are no longer necessary.

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