Intellectual property patent status

Many modern processes use lasers to carry out precise, microscopic operations on a target. However, previous options on the market relied on relatively slow mechanical methods. A new material technology can overcome this limitation, allowing users to dynamically control the ‘focussing properties’ of the laser during processing in order to optimise the energy transfer to the target. 

Person using a laser


In processes that require lasers – such as generating energy by nuclear fusion – it is vital to have precise control of the spot size and position of the laser beam. Dynamic control of these properties opens up a new degree of freedom to optimise laser-to-target energy coupling efficiency.

Current options on the market use multiple beamlines and/or mechanical processes, but these only allow for a discrete number of focal spot sizes. Continuous control of focal spot size on target (zooming) allows for even greater control of the process.

It was essential for a new solution to be found that overcomes this limitation to increase the efficiency of energy transfer and make this a more viable process for users.

The solution

A new innovation, developed by engineers at AWE, overcomes this issue and enables maximum laser energy efficiency with a high degree of precision. It unlocks ‘continuous zooming control’, which allows the smooth and rapid spot zooming and deflection of the laser, as well as removing the need to increase the required laser energy to achieve the desired output. This allows optimum levels of energy transfer to be achieved from the laser to the target at all times.

The technology is a metamaterial (which means it is engineered with structures that impart properties not observed in its naturally occurring state), and is designed so that the refractive index (how it bends light) is variable, and dynamically controlled by a low power ‘steering’ laser. When incorporated into the beamline of a high power laser, this dynamic refraction device adjusts its properties to control the size and direction of the laser.

Key benefits

  • This technology offers sub-nanosecond response times, which enables the size and/or position of a high power laser focal spot to be changed very quickly.
  • The dynamic refraction device can be inserted near the end of an existing laser beamline, minimising complications caused and adaptations needed to the beamline set-up.
  • This technology achieves continuous zooming and steering, allowing for energy transfer to be more efficient – a significant improvement from previous options available to users.
Laser energy efficiency 4 (1)

Potential applications

Laser nuclear

Nuclear fusion power generation

Recent breakthroughs in inertial confinement fusion (ICF) technology has shown that energy generation by this method is possible in the future. The potential for improvement in efficiency, made possible by this technology, could increase the chances of harnessing abundant, cheap and emissions free electricity through nuclear fusion.

Protection from high-powered lasers

The speed of this technique means that fragile sensors could be protected by quickly moving or defocusing high-power radiation away from the sensor.

Laser energy efficiency
LiDAR laser image

LiDAR detection systems

LiDAR detection systems could benefit from increased reaction speeds with laser focal spots, which could be moved away from or towards a point of interest very quickly.

Manufacturing equipment

Precise and rapid control of laser micro-machining equipment could improve manufacturing efficiency.

Laser energy

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