back to article Physicists are rather giddy after creating a rare type of laser using laughing gas

A team of researchers have built a terahertz laser that might one day see through clothes, book covers, and even skin, using laughing gas, according to a paper in Science. The device operates in the terahertz range - a region of the electromagnetic spectrum above microwaves and below visible light. Terahertz lasers are …

  1. eswan

    “Now we’re saying they can be small, tunable, and much more efficient. You could fit this in your backpack, or in your vehicle for wireless communication or high-resolution imaging. Because you don’t want a cyclotron in your car.”

    I don't?

    1. Robert Moore

      I totally want a cyclotron in my car.

      I also want an unlicensed nuclear accelerator strapped to my back.

      1. Mark 85

        I totally want a cyclotron in my car.

        I also want an unlicensed nuclear accelerator strapped to my back

        Just make you never, ever cross the beams.

        1. Myvekk

          That would be 'bad'.

          1. Evil Scot

            How Bad?

      2. Blackjack Silver badge

        And a flying car that works as a time machine?

        1. Zarno

          Remember, the reactor only powers the time circuits....

          Oh, wait!

          If you use a Fisker Karma, or more likely a first gen Honda Insight, you'll never get stuck in the past again!

          I find it amusing that the entire reason they used the DeLorean DMC-12 was it was so outlandishly nutty back when the movie was produced.

          1. Blackjack Silver badge

            That and the fact it was the most futuristic looking car at the time.

            1. Zarno

              True, and I love the lines of it.

              On another thought, 1955 would have been second year production of the Mercedes 300SL.

              Now that would be a time machine.

        2. Josh 14

          I just want the Mr Fusion (and maybe the flight mode...) You can keep the time circuits, way too much trouble, there.

    2. Jeffrey Nonken

      My reaction exactly!

    3. Muscleguy

      Except you need to think carefully about orientation. If they are horizontal cyclotrons you will need two operating in different rotations or your car might be difficult to control. Do cyclotrons work in the vertical orientation like flywheels do?

      Our local buses are hybrids with flywheels (lots of hills here to recover braking energy while going down them). If you concentrate you can feel it.

      1. Tom 7

        Is a cylotron in the rear

        a back seat driver if it wont stop torqueing?

    4. JohnG

      I don't want a cyclotron in my car, I want a flux capacitor (I think it is known as a "flux capacitator" to some US journalists). I don't know what size EV battery will provide 1.21 GW though.

      1. Myvekk

        Here you go!

    5. FuzzyTheBear

      I dont like to be told what i and dont want ! .. any known cyclotron dealers around ? contact me .. i wanna annoy the hell out of that boffin ! .. ill show him what i do and dont want in my car .. the nerves of him .. !

      1. anothercynic Silver badge

        I hear Oxfordshire and the Wirral have at least one dealer each... ;-)

    6. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "I don't?"

      What happens when you get it up to 88mph?

      1. stiine Silver badge

        Presumably you get a ticket...

  2. Blockchain commentard

    Drive-by T-raying. To see through that pretty girls clothes. Science eh.

    1. Mike 16

      Seeing through clothes?

      This sort of apparatus has been commercially available since at least the Eisenhower administration, if the advertisements in my childhood comics are to be believed. Santa wouldn't bring me one, though, and I expect the request was part of the reason I made the "naughty" list.

    2. Ochib

      I am sure that many respectable physicists wouldn't stand for that sort of thing, partly because it is a debasement of science, but mostly because they dont get invited to those sort of parties.

      1. Stumpy

        ... but can it be used to make a nice, hot, cup of tea?

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I expect you to die Mr Bond, laughing.

  4. Paul Crawford Silver badge

    Because you don’t want a cyclotron in your car

    Really? I do!

  5. Lorribot

    Pedantic time

    0.251 to 0.955 terahertz is not 1 terahertz so this would be 251 to 955 GHz.

    Just saying.

    1. Jim Mitchell

      Re: Pedantic time

      GHz == Giggle Hertz, apparently.

      1. Tom 7

        Re: Pedantic time

        A masochistic comedian likes his punch lines.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Pedantic time

          Because they Hz. So Good.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Pedantic time

            Figures I get a downvote, must be those evil executives from Radio Shock...

    2. Kernel

      Re: Pedantic time

      "0.251 to 0.955 terahertz is not 1 terahertz so this would be 251 to 955 GHz."

      True - and tunable lasers in the 1.9THz range have been around for years - before I retired I had boxes of them in a cupboard at work.

  6. aregross
    Thumb Up

    Focused energy is the first step to a Star Trek-like transporter.

    1. Francis Boyle Silver badge


      indeed a solar grill.

    2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Focused energy is the first step to a Star Trek-like transporter

      I'll get out my magnifying glass then!

      1. Ugotta B. Kiddingme

        "Focused energy is the first step to a Star Trek-like transporter"

        "I'll get out my magnifying glass then!"

        Sure makes ants dematerialize (often in a puff of smoke), but lacks that cool "transporter" sound effect.

        1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

          Re: "Focused energy is the first step to a Star Trek-like transporter"

          Are you telling me ants are also powered by magic smoke?

          1. Is It Me

            Re: "Focused energy is the first step to a Star Trek-like transporter"

            I want to be able to up vote this one more.

    3. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Focused energy is the first step to anything besides undifferentiated heat.

  7. Chris G


    With its penetrating potential this could be highly beneficial for many medical techniques but I can guarantee it gets developed into devices for military and security uses first.

    1. JohnG

      Re: Penetration

      That they were talking about applications in secure communications and radar suggests that they expect or already receive funding from the military.

  8. Anonymous South African Coward Bronze badge

    Easy to discover if gas is leaking out - if somebody starts laughing, you'll know it's leaking gas somewhere.

    Finding the leak should be a laughing matter.

  9. Sgt_Oddball

    Shoebox sized eh...

    That sounds promising for those who like their lasers on a more mobile platform.. Say something more aquatic in nature. And ill tempered...

    1. Chris G

      Re: Shoebox sized eh...

      I was thinking of upscaling a little, say hollowed out volcano scale, it could be interesting.

    2. Mark 85

      Re: Shoebox sized eh...

      I suspect the mobility will be limited to the length of the power cord.

      1. stiine Silver badge

        Re: Shoebox sized eh...

        Or the size of your feet?

    3. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Re: Shoebox sized eh...

      And ill tempered..

      Sharks ain't ill-tempered - they are just misunderstood.

      Much like my source of all evil misunderstood senior black cat..

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    bwwha ha haha

    haha haha haha haha haha haha

    ho ho hee hee ha ha

  11. Tromos


    It might be able to limit who can 'see' your THz laser, but as you rely on a reflection, it can still be detected from twice as far away as its maximum range. This could limit the military potential.

    1. really_adf

      Re: Radar

      Much more than twice the range, surely: reflection won't be perfect, and a "useful" return signal will be stronger than the minimum detectable.

  12. LateAgain

    Next step

    Make it hand portable. With a remote that you wave around the patient :-)

    1. Ugotta B. Kiddingme

      Re: Next step

      "Make it hand portable. With a remote that you wave around the patient :-)"

      say, around the size of a salt shaker? (Dammit Jim, I'm a DOCTOR not a radiologist. Oh, wait...)

  13. Mage Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Laughing gas

    "These molecules are excited by the laser’s energy and react by vibrating and rotating."

    So that's why it's called Laughing Gas.

    Also I thought we had the MASER before the LASER. Isn't this band more like microwave than infrared? Though it's too early in the morning for figures and I can't remember what frequency a MASER could do. Most MASER applications are now done by GaAs FETs, but some are still used.

    1. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: Laughing gas

      I suppose the acronym for one of these would be TASER (Terahertz Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation), but that's already taken, so they've just gone with 'terahertz laser'.

      This seems to be different from existing masers because it's tunable across a relatively wide range of frequencies/wavelengths.

  14. MJI Silver badge

    In a vehicle

    The gas would not last.

    Called laughing gas as squirt it in your engine with more fuel and you are laughing.

  15. Adrian Midgley 1

    I never did want

    a cyclotron in my car, but now ...

    How small can they, could they, be?

  16. Kubla Cant

    Show box

    All the components required fit inside a shoe box and functions in room temperature.

    I know this is just a Reg measure of size, but it does create the unfortunate impression that this presumably sophisticated apparatus is just a breadboard full of bits salvaged from old radio sets and housed in a shoe box.

    Also can anyone suggest what dialect "functions in room temperature" is? And where is the singular subject of "functions"?

  17. Anonymous Coward

    I hate quantum mechanics

    These molecules are excited by the laser’s energy and react by vibrating and rotating. The electrons can jump between energy levels, emitting photons in the terahertz range to create a laser.

    1THz is about 30 cm-1 or 4meV, placing these transitions firmly into the rotational (or a very soft vibration - except N2O is a pretty rigid molecule) transition territory.

    So possibly a better way to put it is to say what the electrons stay happily exactly where they were, while the madly-rotating nuclei decide to take it a little easier, and emit a soft sigh, which becomes the terahertz radiation. From the tabulated microwave transition lines, they must have rotated rather a lot - the 0.5THz lines would correspond to rotational quantum numbers of 20+. That's plenty fast.

    On the other hand, that's only true if I am tumbling about with the molecule itself, where the wee lasses electrons are mostly folowing their big and positive brothers the nuclei. If I happen to lie down on the coach next to the laser to recover from all that spinning, both the electrons and the nuclei are whirling in the mad dance, and jump most synchronously together, all emiting the little screams of joy, the teraherz photons.

    As I said, I hate quantum mechanics, together with their little quantum spanners and their smug little quantum grins, neither here nor there.

    Yes I'll get my coat now - one with the long sleeves at the back.

  18. JDX Gold badge

    All the components required fit inside a shoe box

    Funding really is an issue these days.

  19. Drew Scriver

    Tin-foil hats won't be enough...

    I predict that glitter jackets and pants will become all the rage (again).

  20. IGotOut Silver badge


    There is no way I could be doing 185mph in my car, it's only a 1ltr. What....yeah these massive Nitro cylinders in my car? They are for a laser officer,honest.

  21. picturethis

    Tuned length laser, hmmmm

    By tuning the terahertz frequency, you can choose how far the waves can travel through air before they are absorbed, from meters to kilometers

    Hmmm, Now when can I order my light saber?

  22. BuckeyeB

    That's pretty presumptuous of him to think that I don't want a cyclotron in my car. He doesn't know me.

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