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Clemson University engineers to research laser weaponry

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A pair of Clemson University engineers have received a combined $3.2 million in grants from the Department of Defense to study the creation of high-energy lasers that could be used as a weapon.

John Ballato and Lin Zhu are taking different approaches to the study but are looking at similar challenges, such as what happens to light at high intensity, according to a news release from Clemson University. According to the release, the military has begun deployment of some lasers to shoot down missiles and drones.

Clemson University engineer Lin Zhu has been awarded a $1.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to study diodes that convert electricity into light. It is part of research to create high-energy lasers that could be used as weapons. (Photo/Provided)Ballato is the J.E. Sirrine Textile Foundation endowed chair of optical fibers and has received $1.8 million in his latest round of funding. Zhu is an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering and has received $1.4 million.

Ballato’s research will look at the optical fiber that channels light. He will research what materials can be used to make the optical fiber so as not to degrade the laser’s power.

On the other hand, Zhu is researching the diodes that convert electricity to light. He will look at engineering a powerful light beam that also goes in one direction.

“They have done a spectacular job in adding to Clemson’s already stellar reputation in defense research, especially as it relates to lasers,” said Stephen Foulger, director of the Center for Optical Materials Science and Engineering Technologies, in the release. “Their awards are well-deserved and a testament to the strength of their research and the Comset program.”

Most of the research done by Ballato and Zhu is based out of Comset. Ballato, a former director of the center, said Clemson University researchers have consistently looked for “underserved markets” to research and found one in the Department of Defense.

“Time and again we’ve listened to what they needed,” Ballato said. “We’ve written proposals specifically targeting new ideas around what they need. The testament is in the funding. We’ve delivered on those problems. We just keep on doing it.”

According to Clemson University, five researchers have received nearly $16 million in grants from the Department of Defense Joint Technology Office High-Energy Laser Program since 2011.

Other Clemson researchers to receive money from the High-Energy Laser Technology Program include Liang Dong, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Eric Johnson, PalmettoNet Endowed Chair in Optoelectronics. Joe Kolis, a professor of inorganic chemistry, has been a key collaborator on laser-focused research.

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