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Amazing masers

Hands-on at the exhibit

  • See how noise gets in the way – try and navigate a remote-controlled ‘Mars Rover’ around an obstacle course while your fellow visitors alter the noise.
  • Transmit signals using an actual maser!
  • See a real-life replica of the first maser and construct molecules using model sets, marshmallows and cocktail sticks!

Find out more

Lasers are everywhere, and provide intense beams of light for a range of things, from CD players to precision-welding, to eye surgery. But before the laser, came the maser. Instead of amplifying visible light that lasers do, masers amplify microwaves. Microwaves are the section of the electromagnetic spectrum that support our mobile phone and satellite networks, Bluetooth or WiFi, or 3G or 4G.

With microwave technology, and using masers, we can transmit information - and can send images in challenging circumstances, and across vast distances. masers take extremely weak signals and amplify them, but the images are not perfect, because of the ‘noise’. This ‘electromagnetic interference’ causes interrupted phone calls and crosstalk, and WiFi can grind to a halt. In our technical world, we depend more on accurate, reliable and secure communications, so we need to fix the noise problem.

Masers could help by detecting a very weak microwave signal and amplifying it massively, without adding noise. But masers are not easy to use, because they need to be extremely cold and held in a strong magnetic field to work properly.

In 2012, we discovered a way to make a maser work. We took an organic crystal molecule and re-engineered it to form a room temperature maser, without the need for cooling or a magnetic field.

Our scientists and engineers are moving towards single devices to provide the images, the chemistry and the physical and medical information to accurately diagnose disease. masers are also being miniaturised so they can ultimately be integrated into electronic circuit boards, and  incorporated into devices. Our research is opening up a world of possibilities.

What else can you think of that masers could help to solve?

Find out more at Imperial College's Maser Research Group and see more videos here: video 1video 2.

Presented by: Imperial College London, UCL, Litron Lasers, Keysight, Molymod, VEX Robotics, Framestore