One weakness inherent in all modern electronics is the heat they produce as waste energy while making their magic. From the lightest and most efficient laptop computers to the advanced multi-million dollar avionics systems in fighter jets, this waste heat can become a problem. As it would happen, the United States Air Force is mostly concerned with only one of these examples.
If left unchecked, the heat created by modern workhorse processors and other high speed microchips can irreparably damage them. An electronics failure of this nature is not an option for fighter pilots. Modern fighter jets, especially the newest fifth generation platforms like the F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Lightning II, rely heavily on their computer systems to retain their air superiority and make the US's jet fighter fleet the most effective in the world.
The United States Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) funds the research of one Dr. Chunlei Guo of the University of Rochester. DailyTech recently reported on Guo's work in high speed lasers, known as femtosecond lasers, in which he was able to create super bright incandescent light bulb filaments by blasting nano and microscopic patterns into the metal. His laser is also able to change the color emitted by the light bulb, as well as the color of raw metals, by forming different patterns on their surfaces. One possible color is a very absorbent shade of black in which the modified metal absorbs almost 100% of the radiation that finds it.
However, what the AFOSR is interested in is not brighter light bulbs, but another property that a metal surface can be made to have, which is an improved sort of capillary action. Guo's laser can be used to etch patterns into the surface that create an environment where the liquid molecules actually stick to the metal better than they stick to themselves. This creates a capillary action where the metal can even pull liquid "uphill." This is of interest to the Air Force because it could be used to enhance cooling systems for their fighters and other aircraft, further lessening the chance of an on-board electronics failure due to stressful conditions.
Khon-Thon Tsen of Arizona State University has used his femtosecond laser to destroy viruses while theoretically leaving delicate human cells unscathed. The international Teramobile project seeks to turn a 30-year-old idea into reality by firing terawatt power femtosecond lasers into thunderclouds, inducing cloud-to-ground lightning. And Guo's laser has already proven its metal sculpting capabilities in various ways.
Guo's laser, using only normal 120-volt wall power, strikes a metal surface with the power of the entire national energy grid at a diameter smaller than a pin point. It is able to pattern a surface the size of a quarter in about 30 minutes, but Guo's team plans to improve this speed.
There will likely be more discoveries and improvements in the future based on Guo's micropatterning laser process. Microscopically altering the surface of metal has been shown to be able to achieve quite a few interesting effects in the past decade. As technology improves, so too will the research aperture expand in this relatively new field. Watch out, transparent aluminum, invisible titanium could be on its way.