EVENTS, ADVANCES, AND NEWS
■ BY JEFF ECKERT
In rough terrain places like Afghanistan, the military has to rely on helicopters for many operations.
Because choppers tend to operate at low altitudes and
at relatively slow cruise speeds, they are highly
vulnerable to shoulder-launched heat-seeking missiles.
The good news is that a new laser technology developed
at the University of Michigan ( www.umich.edu) and
spin-off Omni Sciences ( www.omnisciinc.com) looks like
a promising solution. Mohammed Islam, a professor in
the Department of Engineering and Computer Science,
has created an assembly of cheap, off-the-shelf fiber
optic components to build a sturdy, portable
"mid-infrared supercontinuum laser" that can blind
heat-seeking missiles from a distance of 1.8 miles.
According to the prof, "Our lasers give off a signal that's
like throwing sand in the eyes of the missile." The key is
the fact that supercontinuum lasers give off a beam of
light with a broad range of wavelengths rather than just a
single one. They operate in longer infrared wavelengths
that are invisible but can be felt as heat. As a result, the
device can mimic an engine's electromagnetic signature
and confuse incoming weapons. An additional advantage
Photo courtesy of Lance Cpl. Manuel Valdez.
■ A Stinger infrared-seeking missile is launched in a
Marine live-fire exercise.
is the device's simplicity. "The laser-based infrared
countermeasures in use now for some aircraft have 84
pieces of moving optics. They couldn't withstand the
shake, rattle, and roll of helicopters," Islam noted. "We've
used good, old-fashioned stuff from your telephone
network to build a laser that has no moving parts." The
system — developed with funding from the US Army and
DARPA — is likely to have many other military
applications, but it is particularly well suited for
A NEW APPROACH TO ELECTRONICS?
According to a recent report in the online journal Advanced Materials, researchers at Oregon State University ( http://oregonstate.edu) have solved a mystery that has eluded scientists since the 1960s, leading to the possibility of
an entirely new approach to electronics. The discovery involves the creation
of a high performance "metal-insulator-metal" (MIM) diode. According to
Douglas Keszler, a chemistry prof at OSU, "This is a fundamental change in
the way you could produce electronic products, at high speed on a huge
scale, at very low cost, even less than with conventional methods. It's a basic
way to eliminate the current speed limitations of electrons that have to move
Today's silicon-based electronics work with transistors that control
electron flow which is limited by the speed with which electrons can move
through the materials. A MIM diode, in which an insulator is sandwiched
between two layers of metal performs the same function in a different and
much faster manner. In this device, "the electron doesn't so much move
through the materials as it ‘tunnels’ through the insulator almost
instantaneously appearing on the other side." A patent application has been
filed for the new technology which may offer a way to "simply print
electronics on a huge size scale even less expensively than we can now. And
when the products begin to emerge, the increase in speed of operation could
be enormous." ▲
■ Asymmetric MIM diode developed at
Oregon State University.