Stafford Leader

The Latest in Laser Science, With Fred Seeber

Former Stafford Councilman Is a National Expert
May 08, 2015
Photo by: Jack Reynolds

“Star Wars” is really here and now, in terms of laser technology, according to former Stafford Township councilman Fred Seeber of Beach Haven West.

Seeber is a professor emeritus of physics and photonics (the science of light) at Rutgers University and Camden County College, and he is one of three principal investigators for the National Science Foundation, in which role he helps produce cutting-edge materials for use in classrooms and labs and recruits bright young minds to the field of laser science. He was reelected to his fifth term as chairman of the American National Standards Institute Committee on Laser Safety in Educational Institutions. The honor was given on March 22 in Albuquerque, N.M.

What Seeber means by “Star Wars” is the ability to use lasers to redirect the course of asteroids by heat. Thankfully such a maneuver has never been necessary outside of Hollywood movies, but a laser beam could actually save the planet from certain destruction. If a rock the size of New Jersey hit Earth, Seeber said, it would send up enough explosions to blot out the sun, and death to all creatures would be slow and miserable.

Manufacturing is another laser-additive application becoming more commonplace in the medical and automotive industries. With a computer and CAD system, lasers can create a prototype, device or tool, for example; a laser can apply a graphite coating in a thickness of nanometers.

Everything in laser light is a wavelength procedure, Seeber explained, so wavelengths are altered to suit a given purpose.

Looking to the future, Seeber predicts lasers as powerful as 5 megawatts will have military applications here and in space. To put it in perspective, a handheld laser that retails for $50 to $60 measures 5 milliwatts, he said. “Five megawatts would vaporize you.”

Though the United States leads the world in laser technology, “we’re not the only game in town,” he said, referring to competition in laser advancements from China and Russia.

As the nation’s leading voice on laser safety, Seeber cautioned against aiming laser pointers up at the night sky. The human eye is most sensitive to green, and even from the ground, a laser can cause a pilot severe retinal burns. A recent case in Fresno, Calif., landed the offender in jail for 14 years for pointing a laser at a police helicopter, Seeber said. According to the March 2014 article in USA Today, the number of incidents of laser strikes against aircraft in 2013 was nearly 4,000.

Lastly, Seeber emphasized the need for students of science – especially women – to specialize in physics and photonics. “It’s always the last choice,” he said, after biology and chemistry. Women hold 17 percent of the jobs in technical fields, he said, and that has partly to do with the way men and women think differently. Historically, technical jobs have attracted far more men than women, he said, because women gravitate toward work that serves humanity. “Now the whole thrust is to get more programs that focus on social issues,” he said. So the trend may be shifting now, as lasers become important tools in nursing, diagnostics, surgery – even saving the world.

— Victoria Ford

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