Blue Light Special

A novel way to squeeze more data onto CDs and DVDs.

Illustration by Garry Marshall

New Jersey scientists have created blue laser light using water. Here's how the prototype works: Microwaved steam generates energized hydrogen atoms (1). The atoms' electrons jump energy states and emit light rays (2). Mirrors then harness and focus the blue light into a beam (3).
Illustration by Garry Marshall

Sony's high-capacity blue laser DVD recorder, set to debut in the United States this fall, crams five times more information on a
disc than the standard red laser version does and heralds the arrival of next-generation technology. Enthusiasts eager to get their hands on that much data capacity, however, may think twice after learning that production snags boosted the DVD's price to about $3,500. But researchers at BlackLight Power in Cranbury, New
Jersey, say they have made a discovery that may help overcome technical hurdles and get reliable blue lasers to market.

When the kinks are worked out, blue lasers will likely be the heart of next-generation DVDs, CDs, printers and scanners. Having shorter wavelengths than their red brethren, they can etch more data on a disc. It's the optical equivalent of taking a sharper pencil to paper.

But manufacturing flaws have plagued the emerging technology. The standard way to generate blue laser light is to run an electric current through a crystal or chemical. Excited electrons in the substrates then emit blue light rays. Trouble is, the substrates tend to crack under extreme heat, a glitch that ruins up to a third of all batches. And the solutions are pricey.

Liquids, however, don't crack. Enter the world's first water-based blue laser. Researchers at BlackLight Power heated water vapor with microwaves to generate
energized hydrogen atoms which
emit multispectrum light rays, including infrared, blue and violet. A prototype blue laser device is expected by the end of the year.

The team says such a multispectrum laser light could be miniaturized to micron dimensions for many microelectronic applications. "A hydrogen laser may prove to be the most useful of all," says Randell Mills, BlackLight Power's CEO.