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Ever since Star Wars and Star Trek captured our collective imagination, humans have dreamed of doing crazy things with lasers. And while the military has been working on laser weapons, researchers at the University of Washington have been investigating something unprecedented in the world of lasers—laser refrigeration.
Instead of heating things up to the point they explode, these researchers want to use lasers to cool things down. And according to the University of Washington, they've succeeded in doing just that in liquids, a medium no one has been able to crack in 20 years of trying.
UW's report states that the researchers were able to beam an infrared laser at a microscopic crystal in such a way that the crystal released more light than it took in. As a result, heat left the crystal and the water in which it was suspended.
Ultimately, the researchers were able to cool the water by 36 degrees and use it to "refrigerate saline solution and cell culture media," the University's Jennifer Langston writes.
The team also created a crystal for the laser that acts as a thermometer, changing from "a blueish-green to a reddish-green color as it cools." They also developed an affordable method for growing laser crystals, which UW usually have an incredibly high cost-to-yield ratio.
While we'd love to be able to beam a laser at a warm can of beer and turn it frosty in seconds, the UW researchers have more noble use-cases in mind. They imagine laser refrigeration being used to slow down and study cell processes, or to cool scorching hot microprocessors.
But who knows? Maybe in a few decades we'll all be buying laser fridges.