Of Jellyfish and Lasers…

How is a Jelly Fish protein enabling the next generation of LASERs?

A LASER is a very specific kind of light source that emits light with three distinct properties: Monochromatic, Coherent and Collimated. (get more information and a lesson on the Properties of Laser Light HERE). LASER light is created, as its name suggests, through a process called “Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation”. Basically, lasers are produced via a process that amplifies light by “pumping” or stimulating atoms into higher energy states. When the excited electrons relax, they release a photon. By adding a pair of strategically placed mirrors, the photons bounce back and forth through the atoms, causing even more electrons to excite and relax. All this exciting and relaxing ultimately results in a beam of light that is Monochromatic, Coherent and Collimated.

This process works well, but takes a lot of energy, is not especially efficient and can damage living tissue.

There is a method of producing laser light (called Polariton lasers) that relies on a process of passing photons back and forth between molecules. Polariton lasers are much more energy efficient and safe than conventional lasers. However, the process has only worked at extremely low temperatures.

Here is where scientist bring in jellyfish – or really, barrel shaped fluorescent proteins engineered from jellyfish DNA. These proteins’ cylindrical shell encloses a component that emits light while keeping molecules at the right distance from each other to allow the light to pass back and forth between them to create laser light.

You can read all the details in the paper published in Science Advances in August.