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Biomedical Optics & Medical Imaging

SPIE Professional, October 2018

Flexible Lasers Can Lase Anywhere

Malte Gather's Soft Matter Photonics group at University of St. Andrews is working on technology that will allow you to shoot laser beams out of your eyes.

21 November 2018, SPIE Newsroom. DOI:

An ultrathin membrane-laser on a five pound banknote.

Mounting laser beams on shark heads is so 1997. Malte Gather's Soft Matter Photonics group at University of St Andrews (United Kingdom) is working on technology that will allow you to shoot laser beams out of your eyes. Take that, Dr. Evil.

Gather presented his group's latest work on substrate-free and flexible membrane lasers, which can be transferred onto various substrates for a number of foreseeable uses, including bank note security. Most paper currencies now include security measures like holograms, fluorescent fibers, and color-shifting ink. A flexible laser could be added to the note. When the laser is excited by an external light source, the laser would emit a combination of specific wavelengths of light, adding an additional level of security.

It's a level of security that would be nearly impossible to counterfeit, and could replace or complement the pens that are often used to mark large-currency bills for signs of counterfeiting. "Of course, that's our competition," says Gather. "The pens are incredibly cheap."

But Gather is not deterred. His lab is constantly looking for ways to make laser technology cheaper, while also looking for interesting applications.

Which brings us back to shooting laser beams out of eyeballs. Gather's group is testing (on cow eyes) flexible lasers that have been implanted into contact lenses, which could be used for security screening. "In practice, you would have an LED light pulse coming at the contact lens, and that would stimulate a beam of light coming out," says Gather. The laser works at relatively low powers, meaning that both the excitation light and the emitted light are totally safe.

He notes that they have improvements to make on the optics side to improve performance and stability-and presumably the visual comfort for the would-be human wearer—but the technology has officially made the jump from sci-fi to prototype.