Normally I’d go ahead and explain the pop culture reference, but I’m pretty sure even my mom, my wife and my dog all know where the term “phaser” gained its sci-fi cred. Scientists at NTT Basic Research Laboratories in Japan have discovered how to generate directed energy using sound waves instead of light waves. Instead of “light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation” (i.e. laser), this new method manipulates photons to produce what the researchers are calling phasers.
This isn’t the first attempt to create phasers. The theory has been around for years, and scientists had some success with the idea in 2010, but these proto-phasers still relied at least partially on lasers to generate the sound waves. NTT’s phasers are completely independent devices.
“In our work, we got rid of this optical part,” said Imran Mahboob of NTT Basic Research Laboratories. The standalone nature of the new phasers makes them “… much easier to integrate into other applications and devices.”
Phasers work by exciting phonons which then release energy into the device as they calm down. The energy is contained within the device, which causes it to vibrate, producing a narrow sound wave at 170 kilohertz. All of that is packed into an integrated circuit smaller than a US postage stamp.
Don’t get too excited about owning a phaser quite yet though. While lasers work just about anywhere, phasers need some sort of medium to travel through, so are more limited in application. According to the research team, their new discovery still has potential for use in a number of fields including medical, high precision measurements, and computer manufacturing.
NTT’s findings were published in Physical Review Letters under the title of “Phonon Lasing in an Electromechanical Resonator.”
Below you’ll find a video that attempts to explain how Star Trek technology might work, though it does sound as if it were narrated by Kirk.