Laser system promises to direct rays to desired points during storms

Laser system promises to direct rays to desired points during storms

Engineers from the French National Center for Scientific Research, the University of Geneva, Switzerland, and the Singapore Science, Technology and Research Agency have developed a device capable of directing lightning using beams of light.

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According to the researchers, this is the world’s first laser lightning rod (LLR) that manages to guide a ray to a predetermined point, regardless of the weather conditions around it and with a level of precision far superior to equipment conventional.

“The Franklin rod, as the common lightning rod is known, is a conducting pole that points upwards. He normally creates a low-resistance path for electrical charges within a radius equal to his own height. Although this path sometimes takes the lightning to the rod instead of the ground, the lightning does not always follow this direction, limiting the effectiveness of a lightning rod currently used”, explains professor optics Aurélien Houard, co-author of the study.

laser lightning rod

The device developed by the researchers is installed on top of a common lightning rod to create channels of ionized air. When the LLR emits high-powered laser pulses, intense filaments of light form within the beam, ionizing the nitrogen and oxygen molecules in the air.

According to the scientists, these highly ionized molecules by the laser light beam release free-moving electrons, creating an electrically conductive space for the beam to travel safely until it reaches the metal rod and, consequently, dissipates into the ground.

“To test our prototype, we installed an LLR on top of a 124-meter lightning rod belonging to Swisscom, a European telecommunications company. We wanted to understand how the equipment would behave in a real environment, away from the laboratory”, adds Houard.

“Guide” of rays

The experiment was carried out during storms that occurred between June and September 2021. The results showed that the use of the laser beam was able to extend the protection of a conventional lightning rod by more than 60 meters, almost 50% of its original capacity.

Another advantage of the new system is that the LLR works properly in adverse weather conditions, such as in dense fog or in the midst of more intense gusts of wind, increasing the level of protection of lightning rods during a storm.

“This is the first successful prototype of a technology that still needs improvement before it goes on sale in the real world. The idea now is to develop a system that can extend the protection radius of a Franklin rod from 10 meters to 500 meters”, concludes Houard.

Source: Nature Photonics