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Spotlight on free electron lasers.

Imagine a laser that is powerful enough to burn through steel, yet precise enough to serve as a microsurgical scalpel. Now imagine that you could tune the wavelength of the laser to fit the application: micromachining, sensing and analysis, or long-distance transmission through sea spray in the atmosphere over the open ocean.

Although much development remains before they can go to sea, tunable free electron lasers (FELs) with these capabilities already exist at several laboratories around the world. The FEL delivers intense beams of light that are more powerful than beams from a conventional laser and can be tuned to desired wavelengths. Conventional lasers produce specific single wavelengths of light, depending on the electronic properties of the gas, crystal or semiconductor material that is used as the lasing medium.

In the FEL, electrons are stripped from their atoms. The electrons gain energy as they "surf" a radio frequency wave through a linear accelerator (linac). From there they are steered into a "wiggler," where a series of magnets steers the electrons along a zigzag path, causing them to release some of their energy in the form of photons. As in a conventional laser, the photons are bounced between two mirrors and then emitted as a coherent beam of light.

The Office of Naval Research (ONR) has long been interested in the potential of directed energy weapons for shipboard defense at the speed of light. Recently, ONR has funded development of a laser that could operate in a maritime environment and be consistent with the Navy's planned all-electric ship.

One promising technology, the high power infrared FEL, provides intense beams of laser light that can be tuned to atmosphere-penetrating wavelengths. FEL operators can adjust the wavelength of the laser's emitted light by adjusting the distance between the magnets in the wiggler.

Free electron lasers show promise for a wide array of applications in defense and manufacturing, and they support advanced studies in chemistry, physics, biology and medical science.

Quentin Saulter, ONR's program director for FEL research, was recently named one of 63 "Modern-Day Technology Leaders" by the editors of US Black Engineer and Information Technology magazine (

"No other laser can provide the same benefits to manufacturing, medical research, biology and basic physics," Saulter said. "The Navy has chosen the FEL because of its multi-mission capabilities. Its unique high-power and 24-hour capabilities are ideal for Department of Defense, industrial and scientific applications."

ONR has sponsored free electron laser research at Brookhaven National Laboratory, Argonne National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Naval Research Laboratory, the Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility (Jefferson Lab), the University of Maryland, Vanderbilt University and Stanford University.

The Tunable Energy Recovered High Power Infrared FEL at Jefferson Lab, in Newport News, Va., delivered 10 kilowatts (kW) of infrared laser light in July 2004, making it the most powerful tunable laser in the world. R&D Magazine (http://www. recognized this feat by giving the laser an R&D 100 Award in 2005 as one of the "100 Most Technologically Significant New Products & Processes of the Year."

To date, the Jefferson Lab FEL has been able to maintain a 10 kW average power level, coupled with a 0.5-1.7 picosecond pulse length at 75 MHz in the 1-14 [micro]m wavelength range. Other free electron laser groups are looking to adopt these technologies over the next several years.

This FEL uses a superconducting radio frequency accelerator and an energy-recovering electron recirculator, which provide significant savings in energy consumption and operational costs. FELs based on Jefferson Lab's superconducting electron-accelerating technology are being developed to process plastics, synthetic fibers, advanced materials, and metals as well as components for electronics, microtechnology and nanotechnology.

ONR is funding the operation and optimization of the 10 kW FEL, and plans several studies on topics including laser materials damage and atmospheric propagation to assess the potential of new laser-based shipboard defense strategies.

The Navy is also interested in ultraviolet and terahertz light, or T-rays, which the FEL can produce at world-record powers. Prospective benefits include: better detection of concealed weapons, hidden explosives and land mines; instant "finger-printing" of chemical and biological terror materials in envelopes, packages or air; and much more.

T-rays are electromagnetic radiation of the safe, non-ionizing kind. They can pass through clothing, paper, cardboard, wood, masonry, plastic and ceramics. They can penetrate fog and clouds but not water or metal.

The Navy intends on using lessons learned from the development of the 10 kW FEL to begin design and construction of a 100 kW FEL over the next four years. Eventually, the Navy plans on moving the 100 kW laser to an over water test site. The Navy aims to build on its laboratory partnerships and its support of the FEL, scaling to the megawatt power level needed for speed-of-light shipboard defense.

For more information about ONR, go to

DON IM/IT Sessions

AFCEA Transformation TechNet May 8-10, 2006 in Hampton, Va.

The Department of the Navy Chief Information Officer (DON CIO) will be leading Information Management (IM) and Information Technology (IT) sessions at the AFCEA Transformation TechNet Conference in Hampton, Va. The general conference is scheduled for May 9-10 with DON CIO sessions starting a day earlier on May 8.

The DON CIO-led sessions will be open to all attendees. The conference will be held at the Hampton Roads Convention Center. There is no cost for government and military personnel for the general conference, but registration is required. The agenda for the DON CIO-led sessions and the DON IM/IT Excellence Award nomination criteria are available on the DON CIO Web site at http://www.

The overall conference agenda and registration details for events as required, are available by accessing the AFCEA Transformation TechNet Web site at Please join us!

FORCEnet Engineering

Conference Announcement

Due to the increased focus of the Naval NETWAR FORCEnet Enterprise (NNFE), the June 6-8, 2006, FORCEnet Engineering Conference is canceled. The FORCEnet Engineering Conference's sponsor, the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR), will be developing other venues within the construct of the NNFE to accomplish FORCEnet development goals.

SPAWAR anticipates holding this event under Naval Network Warfare Command sponsorship in a broader and more inclusive fashion with a tight focus on achievable conference objectives during fiscal year 2007.
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Author:McGuire, Nancy
Date:Apr 1, 2006
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