SA bright spark makes laser breakthrough

PRETORIA - An experiment by a UKZN student has put South Africa at the forefront of scientific research.

On Tuesday the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research unveiled the world&39;s very first digital laser, developed in South Africa.

Scientists say this is a milestone in laser technology.

With this digital laser, South Africa is flexing its scientific muscles, showing that it can compete with some of the world’s best in science and technology. 

Under the leadership of Professor Andrew Forbes, the team has shown that laser beams can be digitally controlled from within a laser device, which means producing shapes will be much simpler and easier.

This development will serve as a launching pad to further laser related technologies.  

It was PhD student Sandile Ngcobo’s experiment that led to the breakthrough.

Ngcobo said, "According to what pictures you put in , the grayscale images , the laser will try and replicate it as a light , basically..."

Lasers are increasingly becoming a crucial part of everyday life all around the world, and according to Forbes, the possibilities of how this digital laser will improve lives is endless.

“We believe it can be used in health, as a research tool, not yet as a clinical product, and we are already working on this plus other devices in the communication,” said Forbes.

The news of the breakthrough has been warmly received. 

Science and Technology Minister Derek Hanekom said, “It was only in 1960 that laser technology was developed, and that is where the acronym LASER was coined, not long after but 1967... It is therefore quite extraordinary that scientists from South Africa, from today onwards will be mentioned, now this is maybe a bit of an overstatement, will be mentioned alongside Albert Einstein as contributors in the history of the development of the laser.”

This technology has the potential to make lasers smaller and cheaper, and is patented by the CSIR.