Lightning May be Controlled by Humans with Lasers in the Future

First Posted: Jun 22, 2015 07:58 AM EDT

We may just be able to control lightning. Scientists have discovered a way to guide electric discharges and even steer them around obstacles by using lasers.

Electric arcs have long been used in combustion engines, pollution control applications, lighting, machining and micromachining. Yet applications for electric arcs could multiply with the ability to precisely control the path they take. Now, researchers may have found a way to do this.

In this case, the researchers used the Advanced Laser Light Source (ALLS) facility. Different shaped lasers give discharges distinct properties and trajectories. By combining beams, it's even possible to create a S-shaped trajectory. The researchers placed an object between two electrodes and found that the discharge leapt over the obstacle, without damaging it, and then returned to its laser guide on the other side.

"Our fascination with lightning and electric arcs aside, this scientific discovery holds out significant potential and opens up new fields of research," said Yves Begin, one of the researchers, in a news release. "This spectacular proof of concept, which was conducted over a distance of a few centimeters, required the high-powered lasers, state-of-the-art facilities, and extraordinary research environment that our professors helped create at the INRS."

The findings may mean a new way to control these arcs. This, in turn, could be huge in terms of creating future applications for this particular technique. That said, this method still needs to be refined.

The findings are published in the journal Science Advances.

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