CORVALLIS, Ore. - Researchers at Oregon State University will announce Friday the discovery of a new family of optical materials that may significantly improve the performance and lower the cost of lasers.

Applications in medicine, electronics, environmental monitoring and other industrial uses may evolve for this group of "aluminum borate nonlinear" crystals, scientists say.

The findings will be presented at the Northwest Regional Meeting of the American Chemical Society, being held June 19-22 in Corvallis, Ore.

"We still need to work through some of the remaining obstacles, such as growing these crystals to commercially usable sizes," said Douglas Keszler, an OSU professor of chemistry. "But then we anticipate that some important applications in medicine and industry will be possible."

The newest materials are an improvement, Keszler said, on a type of "cesium lithium borate crystal" that was created at OSU several years ago. A patent application has been filed for that discovery, which already is finding commercial applications, he said.

Crystals of this type are used to take long-wavelength laser light and convert it to short wavelengths for various uses, Keszler said. The efficiency of that conversion process, and the costs involved, are always a technological concern, he added.

The newest materials are more efficient than their predecessors, he said, with a "nonlinearity" near two picometers per volt.

This is comparable to - or surpasses - some earlier materials that are widely used.

With such capabilities, Keszler said, the new materials might find uses in medicine, where they could lower the cost of the lasers now used to do eye surgeries such as radial keratotomy.

In the electronic industry, they might allow the creation of all-solid-state lasers that could replace gas lasers, which are now used for such things as drilling the tiny holes in computer printer ink-jet cartridges. The new devices could be more reliable and less costly to operate.

In environmental monitoring, the materials could improve the performance of lasers that are used to evaluate the presence or level of toxic pollutants.

Further down the road, Keszler said, more advanced materials such as this may find applications in photolithography, allowing the creation of more sophisticated computer chips at lower costs.

The materials were developed at OSU in collaboration with the Center for Advanced Materials Research.

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Douglas Keszler, 541-737-6736