Her lasers could serve as early-warning
systems for terrorism.
When Claire Gmachl worked at Bell Labs, she had a parlor trick that never failed to delight visitors. She would place a lens a few inches from a laser and clamp a matchstick six inches in front of the lens. Then she’d use the lens to focus the laser’s invisible infrared beam onto the matchtip, and voil! She could light a match without touching it. You might think a scientist would be glad to have an entertaining way to show off the power of her devices. But to tell the truth, Gmachl found the exercise a bit “dorky.” She has little patience for distractions.