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Throwing some (laser-generated) shapes

SPIE lightshow.jpg
Light show at Photonics West

By Margaret Harris

The last time I saw a laser light show, I was six years old. Judging from last night’s “Cirque du Laisaire” event at the Photonics West conference (sponsored by the professional optics society, SPIE), the technology has moved on considerably since then.

Unfortunately, this photo doesn’t really do it justice. Lasers are hard to photograph at the best of times, and on this occasion I think my camera had been drinking too many of the event’s signature drink: the “Laser Martini”.

laser martini.jpg
Fancy a laser martini?

This violently blue concoction is made from (so the barmaid informed me) vodka, blue curacao, white cranberry juice and triple sec, with a twist of lemon. And, since another part of the evening’s entertainment was a clip from the James Bond film Goldfinger (you know, the bit where the villain tries to cut Agent 007 in half with a giant laser), it was of course served shaken, not stirred.

The highlight of the evening was the laser magic show, in which a magician called Latimer appeared to pick up a laser beam and spin it around his head. The trick didn’t get much applause, but there’s a reason for that; as the man next to me commented, “Right now, 400 physicists in this room are too busy trying to work out how the hell he did that.” You can watch a version of the show here.

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