Researchers at the University of Washington just developed a real-life ‘freeze ray’

researchers at uw develop laser which refrigerates liquids uwfreezeray2
Dennis Wise / University of Washington
In a groundbreaking study soon to be published by the National Academy of Sciences, researchers at the University of Washington have successfully developed a laser capable of refrigerating liquids instead of heating them. By making use of an infrared laser, the team was able to cool a single microscopic crystal by an astounding 36 degrees Fahrenheit, accomplishing the task of laser-refrigeration in real-life conditions for the first time.

While the breakthrough certainly wasn’t made to satisfy evil villains the world over, the technology does have the potential for a wide range of applications. According to a published announcement from UW itself, the experimental tech may allow for more efficient information processing, possessing the ability to prevent overheating in microchips by cooling specific parts. Moreover, the university posited that scientists could also use it to “precisely cool” portions of cells as they divide or repair themselves, allowing for an incredible opportunity to see exactly how cells work.

“There’s a lot of interest in how cells divide and how molecules and enzymes function, and it’s never been possible before to refrigerate them to study their properties,” says senior author and UW assistant professor of materials science and engineering Peter Pauzaskie. “Using laser cooling, it may be possible to prepare slow-motion movies of life in action. And the advantage is that you don’t have to cool the entire cell, which could kill it or change its behavior.”

Peter Pauzauskie, Xuezhe Zhou, Bennett Smith, and Matthew Crane of the UW engineering team
Peter Pauzauskie, Xuezhe Zhou, Bennett Smith, and Matthew Crane of the UW engineering team Dennis Wise / University of Washington

Concerning the laser itself, the University of Washington decided on using infrared due in large part to the fact that visible light has the potential to harm or “sunburn” cells. By first taking material typically found in commercial lasers, the University of Washington says it “essentially ran the laser phenomenon in reverse.” During the test, the team used the infrared laser to highlight a single microscopic crystal suspended in a water sample. Once illuminated, the crystal gave off a unique reddish-green glow visible to the naked eye which contained slightly more energy than light it absorbed. Moreover, the resulting high-energy glow actually removes heat from the crystal, as well as its surrounding water.

“The real challenge of the project was building an instrument and devising a method capable of determining the temperature of these nanocrystals using signatures of the same light that was used to trap them,” says lead author and Intel Corp. employee Paden Roder.

UW’s testing only demonstrated the laser’s ability on a single nanocrystal, a process which proved to be wildly energy intensive. In order to excite multiple crystals, Pauzaskie says an incredibly high amount of laser power would be required, but that the team intends to continue research on the tech to find a way to make it more efficient. Ideally, UW’s laser could one day be used to cool high-powered lasers (the normal, heat-producing type), which can overheat or melt down.

Funded by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the University of Washington, the study’s complete findings will be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week.

Home Theater

Optoma’s all-in-one laser projector gives you 120 inches of 4K for $3,000

All too often, a really big image size for your home theater has meant tons of money for a large TV, or putting up with the compromises of a decent projector. Optoma's new P1 4K laser projector puts an end to that dilemma.

The Mi Mix 3 is coming to the U.K. on January 16 for a bargain price

Xiaomi announced the Mi Mix 3, a smartphone with a massive screen, a cool slide-up camera module, up to 10GB of RAM, and in the future, a 5G connection. Here's everything you need to know about it.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix, from 'Haunting of Hill House’ to ‘Norsemen’

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Home Theater

Vava’s 4K laser projector delivers 150 inches of cinema-grade video for under $4K

Laser projectors showed up in a big way at this year's CES, wowing us with their brightness and super-large image sizes. Vava, a company that is less than five years old, has one too. Can it compete with LG and Hisense?
Emerging Tech

Watch China’s moon mission touch down on the planet’s far side

Video has been shared of a lander's-eye view of China's Chang'e 4 mission touching down in the Von Kármán Crater on the far side of the moon. The craft captured footage of the descent with a camera which was attached to the probe.
Emerging Tech

SpaceX nails its first launch and landing of 2019, but job cuts loom

SpaceX has nailed its first launch and landing of 2019 with a mission that deployed more satellites for Virginia-based Iridium Communications. But the success was soured somewhat by reports of upcoming job losses at the company.
Emerging Tech

The enormous ‘Flying Bum’ moves toward a commercial design

A prototype of the world's largest aircraft is being retired as the company behind it prepares to build a production model. The new Airlander 10, also known as the "Flying Bum," could be ready for commercial use by 2025.
Emerging Tech

Sick of walking everywhere? Here are the best electric skateboards you can buy

Thanks for Kickstarter and Indiegogo, electric skateboards are carving a bigger niche than you might think. Whether you're into speed, mileage, or something a bit more stylish, here are the best electric skateboards on the market.
Emerging Tech

The best 3D printers for 2019

On the hunt for a new 3D printer? We've got your back. Whether you're a beginner or a seasoned veteran, this list of the best 3D printers has what you're looking for.
Emerging Tech

Wish you could fly? You totally can with these top-of-the-line drones

In just the past few years, drones have transformed from a geeky hobbyist affair to a full-on cultural phenomenon. Here's a no-nonsense rundown of the best drones you can buy right now, no matter what kind of flying you plan to do.
Emerging Tech

Face-scanning A.I. can help doctors spot unusual genetic disorders

Facial recognition can unlock your phone. Could it also be used to identify whether a person has a rare genetic disorder, based on their facial features? New research suggests it can.
Emerging Tech

Lasers and bovine breathalyzer help determine how much methane cows produce

Cow farts and belches don't sound like catastrophic threats, but they contribute to the massive amounts of methane in the atmosphere. Recently, scientists set out to establish the numbers.
Emerging Tech

Researchers discover a way to make 3D printing 100 times faster using light

Researchers at the University of Michigan have invented a new method of 3D printing which is up to 100 times faster than conventional 3D-printing processes. Here's how it works and why it could prove a game-changer for 3D printing.
Emerging Tech

Why wait? Here are some CES 2019 gadgets you can buy right now

Companies come to CES to wow us with their cutting edge technology, but only a few products are slated to hit the market right away. Here is our list of the best CES 2019 tech you can buy right now.