Strong laser pulses convert glass into metal

London: In what could change the future of electronics, scientists have been able to make the properties of glass behave like a metal using ultra-short laser pulses.

This change of material properties can be used to develop ultra-fast light based electronics like logical switches in the future.

Quartz glass does not conduct electric current like an insulator.

With ultra-short laser pulses, however, the electronic properties of glass can be fundamentally changed within no time.

“If the laser pulse is strong enough, the electrons in the material can move freely. For a brief moment, the quartz glass behaves like metal. It becomes opaque and conducts electricity,” said Georg Wachter from the Vienna University of Technology (TU Wien) in Austria.

The laser pulse is an extremely strong electric field which has the power to dramatically change the electronic state of quartz.

“The pulse can not only transfer energy to the electrons, it completely distorts the whole structure of possible electron states in the material,” Wachter explained.

Once the laser pulse has separated electrons from the atoms, the electric field of the pulse can drive the electrons in one direction, so that electric current starts to flow.

Extremely strong laser pulses can cause a current that persists for a while, even after the pulse has faded out, researchers noted.

The study, published in the journal Physical Review Letters, was done in collaboration with researchers from the Tsukuba University in Japan.