Did you know that the same ultra-fast, ultra-intense laser (UUL) that can blast individual cancer cells without harming any good cells in the vicinity can also be used to fuse metal to bone? A new laser lab at the University of Missouri has been built to test the awesome power of this system, whose pulses last just one quadrillionth of a second, known in street terminology as a "femtosecond." Here's why the American Dental Association, the American Cancer Society and the Pentagon would be equally interested in this developing technology:
The key characteristic of the femtosecond laser is the fact that it uniquely can hit its target without burning anything in the surrounding areas. According to Robert Tzou, head researcher and chairman of the department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, this could mean the end of nasty chemotherapy:
"If we have a way to use the lasers to kill cancer cells without even touching the surrounding healthy cells, that is a tremendous benefit to the patient. Basically, the patient leaves the clinic immediately after treatment with no side effects or damage. The high precision and high efficiency of the UUL allows for immediate results."
In surgery and in dentistry, the super accuracy of the laser can be utilized to reduce the collateral damage currently made by incisions and cavity drilling.X-Men fans will be happy to hear that the laser can also be used to fuse metal dust to bone, "sintering" metal powder locally with just enough heat, but without the need for molten metal. Says researcher Yuwen Zhang:
"With the laser, we can melt a very thin strip around titanium micro- and nanoparticles and ultimately control the porosity of the bridge connecting the bone and the alloy. The procedure allows the particles to bond strongly, conforming to the two different surfaces."
In case you doubt that metallicised bones might have military application, Zhang and some of his colleagues have just received a DoD grant to poke around in precisely that arena. [University of Missouri]