Building Petahertz Logic With Lasers And Graphene

There was a time when we thought a 50 MHz 486 was something to get excited about. In comparison, the computer this post was written on clocks in at about 3.8 GHz, which these days, isn’t an especially fast machine. But researchers at the University of Rochester and the  Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg want to blow the doors off even the fastest modern CPUs. By using precise lasers and graphene, they are developing logic that can operate at nearly 1 petahertz (that’s 1,000,000 GHz).

These logic gates use a pair of very short-burst lasers to excite electrical current in graphene and gold junctions. Illuminating the junctions very briefly creates charge carriers formed by electrons excited by the laser. These carriers continue to move after the laser pulse is gone. However, there are also virtual charge carriers that appear during the pulse and then disappear after. Together, these carriers induce a current in the graphene. More importantly, altering the laser allows you to control the direction and relative composition of the carriers. That is, they can create a current of one type or the other or a combination of both.

This is the key to creating logic gates. By controlling the real and virtual currents they can be made to add together or cancel each other out. You can imagine that two inputs that cancel each other out would be a sort of NAND gate. Signals that add could be an OR or AND gate depending on the output threshold.

[Ignacio Franco], the lead researcher, started working on this problem in 2007 when he started thinking about generating electrical currents with lasers. It would be 2013 before experiments bore out his plan and now it appears that the technique can be used to make super fast logic gates.

We often pretend our logic circuits don’t have any propagation delays even though they do. If you could measure it in femtoseconds, maybe that’s finally practical. Then again, sometimes delays are useful. You have to wonder how much the scope will cost that can work on this stuff.

Light Whiskers From Soap Bubbles Is Real Science

You might think that anything to do with a soap bubble is for kids. But it turns out that observing light scattering through a soap bubble produces unexpected results that may lead to insights into concepts as complex as space-time curvature. That’s what [stoppi] says in his latest experiment — generating “light whiskers” using a laser and a soap bubble. You can watch the video, below, but fair warning: if videos with only music annoy you, you might want to mute your speakers before you watch. On the other hand, it almost seems like a laser light show set to music.

The setup is simple and follows a 2020 Israeli-American research paper’s methodology. A relatively strong laser pointer couples to a fiber-optic cable through a focusing lens. The other end of the fiber delivers the light to the soap bubble, where it separates into strands that exhibit something called branched flow.

Our physics knowledge isn’t deep enough to explain what’s going on here. However, if you have an interest in reproducing this experiment, it doesn’t look like it takes anything exotic. The original paper has a lot to say on the topic and if that’s too heavy for you, there’s always the Sunday supplement version.

If there is ever a practical application for this, we’ll see an uptick in the design of bubble machines. Oddly, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen lasers married with bubbles.

The laser module shown cutting shapes out of a piece of cardboard that's lying on the CNC's work surface

Giant CNC Partners With Powerful Laser Diode

[Jeshua Lacock] from 3DTOPO owns a large-format CNC (4’x8′, or 1.2×2.4 m), that he strongly feels is lacking laser-cutting capabilities. The frame is there, and a 150 W CO2 laser tube has been sitting in a box for ages – what else could you need? Sadly, at such a scale, aligning the mirrors is a tough and finicky job – and misalignment can be literally blinding. After reading tales about cutters of such size going out of alignment when someone as much as walked nearby, he dropped the idea – and equipped the CNC head with a high-power laser diode module instead. Having done mirror adjustment on a few CO2 tube-equipped lasers, we can see where he’s coming from.

Typically, the laser modules you see bolted onto CNC heads are firmly under three watts, which is usually only enough for engraving. With a module that provides 5 watts of optical power, [Jeshua] can cut cardboard and thin plywood as well he tells us even 10 W optical power modules are available, just that he didn’t go for one. We reckon that 20 W effective power diodes are not that far into our future, which is getting very close to the potential of the blue box “40 W but actually 35 W but actually way less” K40 laser cutters we cherish. [Jeshua]’s cutter is not breaking speed limits, but it’s built on what’s already there, and the diode is comparatively inexpensive. Equipped with a small honeycomb surface and what seems to be air assist, it’s shown in the video cutting an ornamental piece out of cardboard!

We hackers have been equipping CNCs with laser diodes for a while, but on a way smaller scale and with less powerful diodes – this is definitely a step up! As a hacker, you should have at least some laser cutting options at your disposal, and this overview of CO2 cutters and their availability can get you started. We’ve also given you detailed breakdowns about different sides of laser cutting, be it the must-have of safety, or the nice-to-have of air assist.

Continue reading “Giant CNC Partners With Powerful Laser Diode”

Blu-ray player with 3 slides on a disk

Blu-ray Microscope Uses Blood Cells As Lenses

When you think of high-throughput ptychographic cytometry (wait, you do think about high throughput ptychographic cytometry, right?) does it bring to mind something you can hack together from an old Blu-ray player, an Arduino, and, er, some blood? Apparently so for [Shaowei Jiang] and some of his buddies in this ACS Sensors Article.

For those of you who haven’t had a paper accepted by the American Chemical Society, we should probably clarify things a bit. Ptychography is a computational method of microscopic imaging, and cytometry has to do with measuring the characteristics of cells. Obviously.

This is definitely what science looks like.

Anyway, if you shoot a laser through a sample, it diffracts. If you then move the sample slightly, the diffraction pattern shifts. If you capture the diffraction pattern in each position with a CCD sensor, you can reconstruct the shape of the sample using breathtaking amounts of math.

One hitch – the CCD sensor needs a bunch of tiny lenses, and by tiny we mean six to eight microns. Red blood cells are just that size, and they’re lens shaped. So the researcher puts a drop of their own blood on the surface of the CCD and covers it with a bit of polyvinyl film, leaving a bit of CCD bloodless for reference. There’s an absolutely wild video of it in action here.

Don’t have a Blu-ray player handy? We’ve recently covered a promising attempt at building a homebrew scanning electron microscope which might be more your speed. It doesn’t even require any bodily fluids.

[Thanks jhart99]

Micromachining With A Laser

[Breaking Taps] has a nice pulsed fiber laser and decided to try it to micromachine with silicon. You can see the results in the video below. Silicon absorbs the IR of the laser well, although the physical properties of silicon leave something to be desired. He also is still refining the process for steel, copper, and brass which might be a bit more practical.

The laser has very short duration pulses, but the pulses have a great deal of energy. This was experimental so some of the tests didn’t work very well, but some — like the gears — look great.

Continue reading “Micromachining With A Laser”

Quick Hacks: Countersinking Screw Heads With 3D Laser Engraving

Here’s a fun quick hack from [Timo Birnschein] about using the 3D laser engraving (or ‘stamp’ engraving) mode of certain laser cutter toolchains to create a handy countersink shape in a laser-cut and engraved workpiece. Since [Timo] uses a small laser cutter to cut out and mark project boards for their electronics builds, having an extra messy, manual countersinking operation with subsequent clean-up seemed like a waste of time and effort, if the cutter could be persuaded to do it for them.

Designs are prepared in Inkscape, with an additional ‘3D engraving’ layer holding the extra processing step. [Timo] used the Inkscape feathering tools to create a circular grayscale gradient, leading up to the central cut hole (cuts are in a separate layer) which was then fed into Visicut in order to drive the GRBL-based machine, However, you could do it with practically any toolchain that supports laser power control during a rastering operation. The results look perfectly fine for regions of the workpiece not on show, at least, but if you’re only interested in the idea from a functional point of view, then we reckon this is another great trick for the big bag of laser hacks.

There have been a great number of laser cutting hacks here over the years, since these tools are so darn useful. The snapmaker machine can be a 3D printer, a CNC cutter and a laser cutter all in one, albeit not too perfect at any of those tasks, but the idea is nice. If you own a perfectly fine 3D printer, but fancy a spot of laser engraving (and you have good eye protection!), then you could just strap a 5W blue diode laser to it and get your fix.

Old Printer Becomes Direct Laser Lithography Machine

What does it take to make your own integrated circuits at home? It’s a question that relatively few intrepid hackers have tried to answer, and the answer is usually something along the lines of “a lot of second-hand equipment.” But it doesn’t all have to be cast-offs from a semiconductor fab, as [Zachary Tong] shows us with his homebrew direct laser lithography setup.

Most of us are familiar with masked photolithography thanks to the age-old process of making PCBs using photoresist — a copper-clad board is treated with a photopolymer, a mask containing the traces to be etched is applied, and the board is exposed to UV light, which selectively hardens the resist layer before etching. [Zach] explores a variation on that theme — maskless photolithography — as well as scaling it down considerably with this rig. An optical bench focuses and directs a UV laser into a galvanometer that was salvaged from an old laser printer. The galvo controls the position of the collimated laser beam very precisely before focusing it on a microscope that greatly narrows its field. The laser dances over the surface of a silicon wafer covered with photoresist, where it etches away the resist, making the silicon ready for etching and further processing.

Being made as it is from salvaged components, aluminum extrusion, and 3D-printed parts, [Zach]’s setup is far from optimal. But he was able to get some pretty impressive results, with features down to 7 microns. There’s plenty of room for optimization, of course, including better galvanometers and a less ad hoc optical setup, but we’re keen to see where this goes. [Zach] says one of his goals is homebrew microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), so we’re looking forward to that.

Continue reading “Old Printer Becomes Direct Laser Lithography Machine”