COLUMBIA, Mo., March 14, 2008 -- Femtosecond lasers have entered a "new era" of applications.
The ultrafast, ultraintense laser, or UUL, with laser pulse durations of one quadrillionth of a second -- a femtosecond-- could change procedures for cancer treatments, dentistry, precision metal cutting and joint-implant surgery, said Robert Tzou, a professor and chairman of the department of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of Missouri (MU).
Tzou said he hopes the laser will replace chemical therapy in cancer treatments.
A femtosecond laser at the University of Missouri (MU) mechanical and aerospace engineering department could change the way cancer treatments, dentistry, precision metal cutting and joint implant surgery are performed. (Photo courtesy University of Missouri)
“It used to be a novelty, a fantasy,” Tzou said. While most research with femtosecond lasers has focused on engineering materials such as metals and semiconductors, he has been able to attract faculty members with expertise in medicine and laser technology to collaborate on research in new uses.
A new laser laboratory at MU will enable the research teams to “aggressively pursue success at a national level,” he said. The femtosecond laser lab, components of which were installed in January, was funded with a gift from engineering alumnus Bill Thompson and his wife, Nancy. Tzou said additional requests will fund femtosecond laser research. Zhang, Chen and engineering professor Frank Feng also received a defense department grant to research possible military applications of the UUL.
Femtosecond lasers have a unique capacity to interact with a target without transferring heat to surrounding areas. Their intensity gets the job done, while their speed prevents heat radiation -- resulting in clean cuts, strong welds and precision destruction of very small targets, such as cancer cells, with no injury to, for example, healthy tissue.
Assistant Professor Gruzdev Vitaly is the operator of MU's new femtosecond laser. (Photo courtesy University of Missouri)
“If we have a way to use the lasers to kill cancer cells without even touching the surrounding healthy cells, that is a tremendous benefit to the patient,” Tzou said. “Basically, the patient leaves the clinic immediately after treatment with no side effects or damage. The high precision and high efficiency of the UUL allows immediate results.”
Other potential applications of the femtosecond laser include creating super-clean channels in a silicon chip, which could allow doctors to analyze blood one cell at a time as they flow through a channel. The laser can be used in surgery to make more precise incisions that heal faster and cause less collateral tissue damage. In dentistry, it could treat tooth decay without harming the rest of the tooth.
Associate Professor Yuwen Zhang and Professor Jinn-Kuen Chen recently received a grant from the National Science Foundation to use the laser to “sinter” metal powders -- turn them into a solid, yet porous, mass using heat but without massive liquefaction -- which could help improve the bond between joint implants and bone.
“With the laser, we can melt a very thin strip around titanium micro- and nanoparticles and ultimately control the porosity of the bridge connecting the bone and the alloy,” Zhang said. “The procedure allows the particles to bond strongly, conforming to the two different surfaces.”
For more information, visit: http://web.missouri.edu/~umcengrmaeweb/index.html
- femtosecond laser
- A type of ultrafast laser that creates a minimal amount of heat-affected zones by having a pulse duration below the picosecond level, making the technology ideal for micromachining, medical device fabrication, scientific research, eye surgery and bioimaging.
- The technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The science includes light emission, transmission, deflection, amplification and detection by optical components and instruments, lasers and other light sources, fiber optics, electro-optical instrumentation, related hardware and electronics, and sophisticated systems. The range of applications of photonics extends from energy generation to detection to communications and...
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