Look Out, Lasers: Here Comes The New and Improved Maser

Microwave amplification by stimulated emission of radiation – “maser” technology – has been redesigned for practical use, with revolutionary implications for a variety of detection devices.

Article written by guest writer Kecia Lynn


What’s the Latest Development?

Sixty years after the first one was built, and long after being “outshone” by the laser, scientists in the UK have come up with a practical version of the maser. Just like its vastly more ubiquitous cousin, the “aser” portion of “maser” stands for Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. However, the maser does with microwaves what the laser does with visible light. Masers actually predate lasers, but they were relegated to obscurity due to challenges associated with magnetic fields and temperature. The “new maser,” as described in a report in Nature magazine, eliminates these impediments via the use of a crystalline material.

What’s the Big Idea?

Masers’ key potential lies in their ability to “carry out the amplification process in a particularly clean way, without adding much noise.” Unlike visible light, microwaves are able to pass through materials such as clouds and skin, which means that, in terms of sensitivity, maser-enabled systems could outperform their laser-based counterparts. For example, in their current form, masers are used to detect tiny signals coming from faraway space probes. However, with the revamped version, it may be possible to create a radio telescope so sensitive that it could “detect some extraterrestrial intelligence that hasn't been detected."

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