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There was a time, not so long ago, when lasers were exotic devices that lived in specialist labs and relied on a team of experts to keep them going. All that changed when physicists worked out how to make solid state lasers using the same techniques that have made silicon chips so ubiquitous and cheap. Today, if you live in the western world, you’re probably not more than 5 metres away from a laser right now, perhaps in a DVD player, a laser pointer or disc drive.

But despite their ubiquity, lasers are still relatively tricky to make and hard to incorporate into anything other than solid state devices such as computer chips. Physicists have made some progress in doping optical fibres so that they lase.

But these fibres are relatively large compared to microelectronic components such as transistors and stiff compared to organic fibres such as cotton and so have limited utility. It would be impossible to knit a sweater out of optical fibres, for example.

That could change now thanks to the work of Andrea Composeo at the National Nanotechnology Laboratory of Istituto Nanoscienze-CNR in Italy and a few pals. These guys have found a way to make organic nanofibres that lase at visible wavelengths. The work opens the way to the manufacture of laser textiles, entire sheets of material that emit light using the process of stimulated emission.

It'll certainly make for some wild fashions. To read more, click here.
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