Scientists at Ohio State University have found that a special type of glass that is finding use in the electronics industry softens when exposed to very low-level laser light, and hardens back into its original condition when the light is switched off.
The discovery -- made by accident as physicists were trying to study properties of the material -- may one day enable new uses for the glass. Ratnasingham Sooryakumar said that he and former doctoral student Jared Gump thought they were working with a bad batch of germanium-selenium glass when Gump was testing the material’s hardness in the laboratory and couldn’t reproduce his results. “Every day he got a different result,” recalled Sooryakumar, a professor of physics at Ohio State. “It took us a while to realize that the material was fine, it was just very sensitive to light.”
They finally traced their strange results to the very low-power laser light that they were shining on the glass. Whether the laser was set to exactly the same power every time shouldn’t have affected the experiment, but it did. The higher the laser power, the softer the glass. In fact, with the laser set to a mere 6 milliwatts –- six thousandths of a Watt -- the material became 50 percent softer than usual. “Normally, you’d have to almost melt the glass to get it that soft, but here we were doing it with a light source that was essentially a laser pointer, and with no heat at all,” said Sooryakumar. “And what’s really important is that the whole effect is reversible.”
Ratnasingham Sooryakumar | EurekAlert!
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