Monday, May 02, 2011

Please Stop Humping the "Laser"

      We live, and have lived, in an age of technology that is almost unparalleled.  The pace of development of industrial and everyday technology has begin to increase almost exponentially, and I firmly believe that this has been aided by the development of the computer more than anything.  Computers and microtechnology have allowed for engineering to develop more quickly than at any other time in history.  That being said, I am relatively used to the fact that we can do some pretty amazing stuff, and that we come up with feats of engineering almost on a daily basis.  My laptop - which is badly outdated and can't even run the most recent version of iTunes - has computing power that was unheard of in the 80s and was only found in major research facilities and on university campuses, and that doesn't faze me.  It is just normal.  That cars get much better mileage and are infinitely cleaner running than just fifteen years ago is also sort of normal. All that being said, every once in a while there is still some feat of technology or engineering that comes along and just drops my jaw for one reason or another.

This picture is blowing my mind.
       That is exactly what happened when I saw an article on the BBC website about a team of scientists from Romania and Japan who have developed a laser-based replacement for the spark plug.  I know, it doesn't sound that exciting but it blew my mind for a number of reasons.  First off, spark plugs have been around for like 150 years, and the are basically unchanged in their design.  Sure there are improvements and there have been some changes, but the basic design are still the same as they have always been.  As such, they aren't really the kind of thing that one would think about unless they need replacing in your car, law mower, etc.  And if I were a scientist, I don't know that I would choose that as my area of research.  Secondly, it blows my mind that they are going to use lasers as the replacement.  Lasers in my mind have always been gigantic things that either shoot from spacecraft or gigantic things in research labs.  I know that they use lasers in a lot of medical applications, and that those lasers would have to be pretty small, but I just don't think of them as tiny little things.
        I am not going to get into the specifics of those the new laser spark plugs would work, and I am not going to get into the technological breakthrough that has allowed this to happen, you can read the article if you want all that information.  All I am really going to do is tell you that I am totally amazed by this, and I think that this is going to be one of those things that - once perfected - is commonplace and is the new standard in the industry.  Sort of like fuel injection was (when was the last time you saw a new car with a carburetor?).  And it is happening right now.  And I think that is pretty cool.  Oh, and totally amazing.

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