Finally, science is working to provide us the seemingly absurd superpowers we were promised in comic books, even for those of us who weren’t raised on Krypton. Believe it or not, researchers have developed new technology that could make it possible to actually shoot laser beams from your eyes, Superman-style. It’s a concept with roots that go back much further than the Man of Steel’s origin story in the minds of a few teenagers in Ohio in the 1930s.
“In ancient Greece, Plato believed that visual perception is mediated by ‘eye beams’ – beams actively sent out by the eyes to probe the environment,” explains Professor Malte Gather of the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. “Plato’s emission theory has of course long been refuted, but superheroes with lasers in their eyes live on in popular culture and comic books. Our work represents a new milestone in laser development and, in particular, points the way to how lasers can be used in inherently soft and ductile environments, be it in wearable sensors or as an authentication feature on bank notes.”
Gather worked with a team that included colleagues for Samuel and Graham Turnbull to develop an ultra-thin membrane laser using organic semiconductors. They published a paper on their work in Nature Communications claiming that the tiny lasers can be safely operated in the human eye. They demonstrated the system using a cow eye as a model.
“By floating a thin plastic film off a substrate we have made some of the world’s smallest and lightest lasers and put them on contact lenses and bank notes,” Samuel said.
The idea is not to equip our eyeballs with new weapons, but instead a new security feature, perhaps for authentication purposes. “These physical properties combined with the low lasing threshold and the ability to generate unique output spectra allows the application of membrane lasers as security label that can be applied to a wide range of substrates including banknotes, contact lenses, and finger nails,” the authors write in their study. In plain English, laser-emitting membranes placed in eyes, on fingers or cash can act as a flexible and wearable security tag. This may all sound like far-out and futuristic tech we’re not likely to see in our daily lives anytime soon, but the researchers believe it is part of a field of flexible optoelectronics that is rapidly growing and commercializing. “By combining recently developed roll-to-roll nanoimprint and organic ink jet printing technology, membrane lasers could be mass-produced with high reproducibility and at low cost,” they write.
Soon, remembering your eye lasers could be just as important as grabbing your keys and wallet on your way out the door.