Durban - Laser technology is set to become easier to harness, cheaper and even more common in the next 20 years thanks to two KwaZulu-Natal-born scientists who have developed the world’s first digital laser.
The innovation is the work of a team, based at the CSIR in Pretoria, led by Professor Andrew Forbes and University of KwaZulu-Natal PhD student Sandile Ngcobo.
Forbes holds an honorary position at UKZN.
Science and Technology Minister Derek Hanekom hailed the digital laser as being in the league of other world firsts by South African innovators, such as Pratley Putty (used to hold bits of the landing craft together during the 1969 moon landing) and the CAT scan.
Hanekom was speaking at a press conference held at the CSIR’s offices on Tuesday, to announce the breakthrough.
Uses for laser technology span everything from printers and CD players to medical procedures.
In conventional laser devices, the shape of the beam that is emitted is dependent on specialised, time-consuming and expensive optics.
But Forbes and Ngcobo were able to find a way to digitally control the beams from inside the device and alternate the shapes in real time by sending images to the liquid crystal display.
“When the pictures change on the LCD inside, the properties of the laser beams that exit in the device change accordingly,” Forbes explained.
The “eureka moment” had been two years in the making, and there had been many technical hurdles.
Ngcobo said he only realised the true magnitude of what had been achieved when Forbes began “running up and down in the building shouting: ‘Do you know what this means?’”
Forbes matriculated from George Campbell High in Durban, and Ngcobo from Eastwood Secondary in Pietermaritzburg.
Forbes said that electrons had played a starring role in the technological advances of the 20th century, but that without its own micro-electronics industry, South Africa was a consumer of technology developed elsewhere in the world.
The 21st century was the century of photonics (generating and controlling particles of light) – and the digital laser would ensure South Africa was not left behind in the photonics revolution, Forbes said. - The Mercury