Scientists at the Naval Research Laboratory are developing a new technology for use in underwater acoustics. The new technology uses flashes of laser light to remotely create underwater sound. The new acoustic source has the potential to expand and improve both Naval and commercial underwater acoustic applications, including undersea communications, navigation, and acoustic imaging. Dr. Ted Jones, a physicist in the Plasma Physics Division, is leading a team of researchers from the Plasma Physics, Acoustics, and Marine Geosciences Divisions in developing this acoustic source.
Efficient conversion of light into sound can be achieved by concentrating the light sufficiently to ionize a small amount of water, which then absorbs laser energy and superheats. The result is a small explosion of steam, which can generate a 220 decibel pulse of sound. Optical properties of water can be manipulated with very intense laser light to act like a focusing lens, allowing nonlinear self-focusing (NSF) to take place. In addition, the slightly different colors of the laser, which travel at different speeds in water due to group velocity dispersion (GVD), can be arranged so that the pulse also compresses in time as it travels through water, further concentrating the light. By using a combination of GVD and NSF, controlled underwater compression of optical pulses can be attained.
via NRL Press Release.