BY AMANDA LYONS
A major new project focused on infrared laser technology is underway at UNT involving experts from both the College of Engineering and the College of Science.
Assistant Professor Richard Zhang from the College of Engineering is spearheading the project funded by a $4.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense Air Force Office of Scientific Research. The goal is to investigate methods for maintaining temperature-stable lasers after long duration and high-power conditions.
“We want to ensure that a laser can move through something like a lens without burning out and without damaging the lens,” Zhang says, “So we’ll be studying that reaction and finetuning the laser source as we go.”
The research team involves five professors – Zhang and Tae-yul ‘Theo’ Choi in mechanical engineering: Arkadii Krokhin and Jens Neu in physics and Jeff Kelber from chemistry.
While some might not connect chemistry and lasers, Kelber is investigating how semiconductor films react when exposed to laser beams, possibly decomposing or melting. He says this is a new direction from his usual research.
“I typically work on surface chemistry with issues related to microelectronics,” Kelber says. “This is like when your GPS says to make a ‘soft left.’ It’s a step in a new direction, but not too different. It’s very exciting.”
The results of the research will initially go toward military use. However, the outcomes could influence future technology in mobile phones and cars.
“Whenever you use facial recognition on your phone, that’s a laser scanning your face. Adaptive cruise control uses lasers, too,” Zhang says. “It’s technology we might take for granted, but we could really expand upon it with the results on this research.”
Zhang and his team plan to involve students from all academic levels from mechanical and electrical engineering, chemistry and physics. With members from the Air Force Research Lab also involved, Zhang hopes the project could lead to more opportunities for students and their future careers.
One of the goals of the current project is to attract more students to the field of laser technology.
“We’re looking to get more students interested in this work, particularly those who will be involved in future work with the Air Force or Space Force. And hopefully this can grow into a consortium that gets involved with industry partners all over to make this huge network the students will be able to take advantage of,” Zhang says.