The Light Side: The Laser to Rule All Lasers

February 7, 2014

Future High-Protein Diet Is the Six-Legged Kind

Top 10 STEM Jokes

You Might Be an Engineer If...

The science and engineering team at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) is going to construct a laser system capable of a peak power of 1 petawatt. That's 1,000,000,000,000,000 watts, or, as one report equates

, more than 100,000 times the power of all of the world's power stations put together.

The High repetition-rate Advanced Petawatt Laser System, or HAPLS, "combines semiconductor diode laser technology with advanced optics, integrated control systems, and techniques for managing the production of ultra-short pulses of light," according to LLNL. Each pulse of the laser will be just 30 femtoseconds, or 0.00000000000003 seconds, delivering 30 joules of energy. The laser will be able to fire 10 times per second.

HAPLS has already been nicknamed the "Death Star" laser, after the planet-sized space station and weapon in Star Wars, and although one application listed is the euphemistic "homeland security," it will have benign uses. After LLNL finishes building it, HAPLS will be shipped to the European Union's Extreme Light Infrastructure Beamlines facility (which is under construction) in the Czech Republic. There, researchers will use it to study medical imaging (by generating secondary, high-intensity electromagnetic radiation), particle acceleration (electrons, protons, or ions), and quantum physics.

Firing a laser this intense requires removing heat in the same direction that the laser beam propagates. Room-temperature helium gas, pressurized to 3 atmospheres, will travel about 100 meters per second (Mach 0.1 in helium at those conditions) to provide cooling. The gas will be invisible to the laser beam because of helium's low refractive index, which is close to that of a vacuum.

Development, assembly, and testing of the 15-foot-wide-by-56-foot-long HAPLS will be a joint affair, with scientists from the Czech Institute of Physics traveling to Livermore, Calif., to work with LLNL's NIF & Photon Science Directorate. HAPLS is expected to fire up in Europe as early as 2016. LLNL was chosen because of its expertise in developing high-power lasers as part of its national security work for the U.S. government.

Click on the image below for a closer look at HAPLS.


Future High-Protein Diet Is the Six-Legged Kind

While eating insects is shunned by western cultures, bugs are a primary source of high-nutrition food -- if not a delicacy -- in many parts of the world. As industrial designer Susan Soares

notes, our hesitance has as much to do with their aesthetics as cultural background. But what if they were turned into yummy shapes like, say, cakes?

Thanks to ever-widening applications and possibilities enabled by 3D printing, food scientists and Soares are exploring 3D printed food with insects as the main ingredient at London South Bank University.


Here's the scenario: Edible insects are dried and ground into a fine powder and mixed with gelling agents and other ingredients such as water, sugar, icing butter, and cream cheese -- hey, concessions are to be made if we are going to eat insects. The "flour" (not calling it "fine bug powder" is part of the change in psychology required) is then put into a 3D printer and reconstituted into cakes, bread, what have you.

"We are using this very hi-tech [sic printing ability to try to encourage people to consider a new protein source," Ken Spears, a food scientist at London South Bank University's Department of Applied Science, told the Telegraph. His team has reportedly printed food out of mealworm beetle larvae.

Insects, as we all know, are high in protein. As Soares relayed on her site, they are tremendously efficient at converting vegetation into protein for themselves. And as global population growth continues, Spears, Soares, and their collaborators argue that insects could be a widespread, sustainable food source for the world.

They are conducting free workshops, with live demos, in a few months to let the public try this firsthand, in a project called "Insects au Gratin." Workshop attendees will have free tastings as well as chances to debate the merits of insect food.

At least this is not cockroach farming

, a rapidly burgeoning industry in China, in which the house pests are grown and then pulverized into fine powder believed to possess medicinal benefits. But if insect-eating goes mainstream, it will have to be a part of any Star Trek: The Next Generation reboot. Captain Picard will have his Arkarian beetle cakes with his machine-made Earl Grey tea.

Top 10 STEM Jokes

Much to the chagrin of friends and colleagues, I'm always up for a good pun. They are quick, witty, and usually quite smart. Plus, some of the smartest ones can include science, technology, engineering, or even math. Today, we will cover

's top 10 STEM Jokes. Please let us know your favorites in the comments below for a follow-up.

10. What do Batman and 15 Sodium atoms have in common?


9. Why did the electron throw up?

He was spinning.

8. Man, I really like that band 1023MB. You probably haven't heard of them though.

They didn't have a gig yet.

7. What did the electrical engineer say when he got shocked?

That hertz.

6. What did the tectonic plates say to each other after the earthquake?

It's not my fault, man!

5. Why was the thermometer smarter than the graduated cylinder?

He had more degrees.

4. How did the mathematician spend his night with his wife?

Tangent to all her curves.

3. What did the structural engineer say to the architect?

Nice buttress.

2. A physicist gets pulled over. The cop says, "Do you know how fast you were going!?"

Physicist says, "No, but I know exactly where I was."

1. How do you know the photon crossed the road?

Because you saw it.

This article by Shawn Wasserman

was originally published on

and is reprinted in its entirety with permission. For more stories like this please visit


You Might Be an Engineer If...

Engineers aren't squares, as evidenced above. We are well-rounded, likeable people who have plenty of interests outside of work and big circles of friends and family. But people do think that we have a sense of quirkiness about us, admittedly.

Maybe it's because of that time you tinkered with your cordless drill for a new use. Or when you laughed at an Internet meme that none of your friends got. There also could've been that party where you blew the minds of -- or drew blank stares from -- everyone in the room with your impassioned explanation of 3D printing and its ramifications.

BuzzFeed knows this and has compiled a list

called "12 Signs You Are the Engineer of Your Friend Group."

Take a gander and tell us in the comments section below if anything on the list has happened to you before.

12 Signs You Are The Engineer Of Your Friend Group

Top photo credit: Lucasfilm


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