Lightning strikes can induce substantial injury to properties and essential infrastructure, these as airports. To mitigate this chance, a single EU task is attempting to use strong laser engineering to command wherever lightning strikes. If prosperous, the ensuing laser lightning rod could aid conserve income – and life.


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© stnazkul #84059942, source:stock.adobe.com 2020

It is said that lightning never strikes the very same place two times. But just a single strike can be more than enough to induce substantial injury. Not only do lightning strikes destroy up to 24 000 individuals every single 12 months, they’re also liable for electricity outages, forest fires, and structural injury.

When lightning strikes crucial infrastructure and delicate internet sites like airports and rocket launch pads, the outcome can be billions of euros in injury. To mitigate this chance, the EU-funded LLR task has established out to do what was after thought of unattainable: command lightning. 

“Today’s lightning security techniques are still centered on the lightning rod designed by Benjamin Franklin nearly three hundred yrs ago,” says Aurélien Houard, a researcher at Ecole Polytechnique in France and LLR (Laser Lighnting Rod) task coordinator. “Our task intends to update this idea using a incredibly strong laser.”

A strong laser beam

At the coronary heart of the task is a novel style of laser showcasing a strong beam. This beam will act as a preferential path for the lightning, diverting it absent from prospective victims. The special laser will also tutorial lightning flashes to the ground to discharge the electric powered charge in the clouds.

To illustrate, when set up at an airport, the laser lightning rod would operate in conjunction with an early warning radar method. “Upon the progress of thunderstorm conditions, the laser would be fired toward the cloud to deflect the lightning strike absent from aircraft all through acquire-off, landing, taxiing, and ground operations,” explains Houard. “In outcome, this would develop a harmless corridor surrounded – and protected – by lasers.”

Floor-breaking engineering

To accomplish the necessary intensity and repetition rate, the task has employed a range of ground-breaking technologies. For illustration, it utilizes chirped pulse amplification (CPA), the present-state-of-the-artwork technique made use of by most of the world’s large-electricity lasers and the winner of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics. “CPA is a technique for amplifying an ultrashort laser pulse,” says Houard. “It will work by stretching out the laser pulse temporally, amplifying it, and then re-compressing it.”

To produce the quick laser pulses at a large repetition rate of 1 000 pictures for each 2nd, the task workforce had to scale up the laser’s average electricity. To do this, state-of-the-art amplification engineering designed by Trumpf, a German industrial device manufacturing corporation and member of the task consortium, was made use of.

According to Houard, the energy provided by the technology’s lots of diodes is concentrated in a incredibly thin disk of crystal cooled by drinking water. “When the laser pulse goes however the crystal, the stored energy is transferred to the laser pulse by means of a quantum mechanism called ‘laser gain’,” he says. “The design and style of this thin disk amplifier allowed for an raise in the electricity of the ultrashort laser by an purchase of magnitude.”

The task also designed an modern method for predicting lightning activity. “Using a blend of common information from temperature stations and synthetic intelligence, the associates designed a new way of predicting lightning strikes within a forecast interval of 10 to 30 minutes and within a radius of 30 kilometres,” responses Houard. “This is the initially time that a method centered on basic meteorological information has been equipped to predict lightning strikes by means of authentic-time calculations.”

Demonstration prepared for 2021

The LLR workforce is presently screening the laser in Paris, with the purpose of validating the idea of safely guiding a lightning strike to the ground by projecting a extended-vary beam into the ambiance.

A last demonstration of the LLR idea is established to acquire place on Mt. Säntis in Switzerland, which is residence to a Swisscom tower that is struck by lightning over a hundred periods every single 12 months. The demonstration is prepared for 2021. Subsequent a prosperous demonstration, the task workforce is self-assured that the method will be completely ready for entire commercialisation within a handful of yrs.