17th August 2012, 11:14am
Lasers offer solutions to today’s technological challenges
Lasers - the solution looking for a problem. Stem cell research, food packaging and industrial gas turbines are just some of the diverse areas benefiting from the expertise of the new Laser and Photonics Engineering Group at the University of Lincoln.

The Group has quickly established itself as one of the leading laser groups in the higher education sector in the UK, based on work with industry in tackling the challenges faced in the real world.

Head of the Group, Professor Jonathan Lawrence, believes that lasers can be used to solve problems across a whole range of disciplines and industries.

He said: “The nature of today’s challenges brings the need for solutions through non-contact engineering. We are at the forefront of this with lasers and photonics. We have people on the team bringing together physics and chemistry, with expertise in laser optics, beam delivery and manipulation, ultra fast imaging of ablation and plume events and mathematical modelling and simulation. Everyone in the team is young and willing to look at problems in new ways, applying this new and exciting technology.

“We have already had success using lasers in ways people may not imagine are possible; for example, we have been working with colleagues in Life Sciences at the University on stem cell research, using lasers to produce special surfaces that go on to determine what stem cells develop into as they grow. We have also been applying them to ‘surface engineering’ which could have massive medical benefits by increasing the success rate of some procedures, such as hip replacements.”

The team has recently completed the first phase of research using lasers to improve food packaging. “The findings so far indicate that the food industry could benefit from the improved integrity of seals on packaging by using lasers, rather than the current heat sealing machines,” said Professor Lawrence. “This would save money and increase the safety of the food product for consumers, not to mention huge savings in energy usage.”

Considering the University’s unique collaboration with Siemens, it is no surprise that challenges facing the industrial power sector have also come under scrutiny. The team has utilised lasers in the process of igniting industrial gas turbines, replacing the flame.

Professor Lawrence said: “Gas turbines might be located out in sub-zero temperatures or in the desert, making the ignition process inconsistent. We’re looking to eliminate that inconsistency, again, potentially saving the industry significant amounts of money and the same time, proving reliable service.”

The new laser laboratory, based in the University’s School of Engineering, is equipped with lasers covering the full wavelength range, from ultra-violet to infra-red, and including excimer, CO2 and Nd:YAG lasers. Other kit enabling the team’s ground-breaking research to take place includes a scanning electron microscope and white light interferometer, a variety of optical microscopes, and wettability analysis equipment.

Professor Lawrence has presented and published widely in Laser and Photonics Engineering, including seven books and more than 120 papers in international journals. He is the Editor-in-Chief of the international journal Lasers in Engineering. His work has yielded five patents relating to the novel use of lasers and laser materials processing.

Other members of the team are: Dr Colin Dowding, whose specific fields of expertise concern laser ablation generated debris control, ultrafast imaging, laser activated selective bonding techniques and plasma initiated shockwave generation. Recently, Dr Dowding has pioneered a technique to control the effects of debris during the laser machining process to allow better micromachining; Dr. David Waugh conducts fundamental and applied research in laser engineering, spanning a diverse range of fields such as surface treatment, wettability control and biomedical science; Jonathan Griffiths’ main research area is laser ignition for gas turbines.

The Laser and Photonics Engineering Group is keen to work with local, national and international businesses and organisations to solve problems relevant to them and their industry. They can be contacted by emailing: jlawrence@lincoln.ac.uk
--Ends--