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Laser guided electric discharges hint at control of lightning paths

21 June 2015

Researchers using lasers to guide small-scale electric discharges question whether the technique might one day allow control of the path of lightning.

Image: Shutterstock

Potential applications of electric arcs could multiply with the ability to precisely control the path they take. A step in this direction has been made by researchers at the INRS Énergie Matériaux Télécommunications research centre in Canada.

Experiments show how different shaped lasers give discharges distinct properties and trajectories. By combining beams, it is even possible to achieve an S-shaped trajectory, with all other kinds of trajectory achievable in principle.

Professor Roberto Morandotti and his colleagues at INRS wanted to determine whether the self-healing properties of certain shapes of laser beams (such as Airy and Bessel beams) could be put to use in these experiments.

This self-healing property means that a laser beam whose intensity peak is blocked by an obstacle can reconstruct itself once past the object. Professor Morandotti's team placed an object between two electrodes and observed that the discharge leapt over the obstacle, without damaging it, and returned to its laser guide on the other side.

This research into new possibilities and parameters for guiding electric arcs has sparked an interest in the control of an electric arc on a significantly greater scale - the lightning strike.

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