Light That Cools? Scientists Use Lasers to Refrigerate Liquid for the First Time Ever

11. 18. 15 by Miguel Santos
Dennis Wise/University of Washington
The Breakthrough

Researchers from the University of Washington have been able to make a laser cool down liquids under normal everyday conditions. This seems a little counterintuitive as, usually, when you set light on something it heats up. Yet, in their study, the team has demonstrated that they were able to use an infrared laser to decrease the temperature of water by 2.2 degrees Celsius (36 degrees Fahrenheit).

Peter Pauzauskie, UW assistant professor of Materials Science and Engineering,  explains the problem of cooling with lasers, saying “This is the first example of a laser beam that will refrigerate liquids like water under everyday conditions. It was really an open question as to whether this could be done because normally water warms when illuminated.”

The researchers intentionally chose to use infrared light for its cooling laser because visible light could damage cells. By running the laser phenomenon in reverse, they’re able to use an infrared laser light to illuminate a microscopic crystal that’s suspended in water and produce a high-energy glow that can carry heat away from the laser’s target.

The Implications

The team’s initial intent was to develop the technology for biological application. With it, scientists would be able to cool down portions of a cell as it undergoes different processes with pinpoint accuracy, allowing them to slow down these processes and observe how they occur.

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The technology also has major implications in computing, where cooling lasers could be used to cool very specific computer chip components and speed up information processing.


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