École Polytechnique de Montréal
Normally, shining a light on an object makes it hotter because the light energy is absorbed and converted into heat. However, intriguing new research could lead to using light as a practical way of actually cooling devices such as electronics that currently require bulky thermoelectric coolers and a fan to stay cool.
Sébastien Loranger, the winner of a master’s level 2011 NSERC André Hamer Postgraduate Prize, hopes to develop cost-effective cooling technology using laser light, which could revolutionize everything from high power lasers to microelectronics.
The concept of laser cooling is not new, but has not previously been applied to mass-produced electronics. The 1997 Nobel Prize for Physics was awarded for finding a way to trap and cool atoms with laser light. Shining particular wavelengths of laser light at atoms slows down their momentum, effectively cooling them. A similar technique can be applied to solid materials by adding vibrational energy to laser light, which then results in the material releasing more energy rather than absorbing it.
Loranger’s work would open up new applications for laser cooling by using the technique with a common material such as ordinary glass. In addition to being a breakthrough in physics, this would open the door to numerous commercial applications and lead to considerable cost savings. Without the need for heavy thermoelectric coolers, it may be possible to miniaturize existing cooling systems by piping light in and out of strategic locations using fibre optics. It could also lead to a new class of fibre-optic lasers that are currently used in everything from scientific to military and medical settings.