A UCF researcher is part of an international team of scientists that has shown laser beams can be used to control the trail of electrical discharges to avoid or bypass obstacles.

Guiding currents across specific paths in a controlled manner could allow protection against lightning strikes and high-voltage capacitor discharges, said Demetrios Christodoulides of the Center for Research and Education in Optics and Lasers (CREOL), part of UCF’s College of Optics & Photonics.

The team’s research was published today in “Science Advances.”

Using these judiciously shaped laser beams to produce electric discharges that unfold along a predefined course “can even circumvent an object that completely occludes the line of sight,” said Christodoulides, a Pegasus Professor of Optics and the Cobb Family Endowed Chair.

In some fields, electrical discharges are already used for things such as assisting the milling process, fuel ignition in combustible engines, and controlling hydrodynamics of high-speed gases, but developing ways to control and shape the path of an electrical spark has remained a challenge.

The recent introduction of “self-bending Airy beams,” a non-diffracting waveform that gives the appearance of bending as it travels, opened up the opportunities of creating curved trajectories for the electrical discharges. By manipulating the shape of the laser, it is possible to control the trail of a spark.

Christodoulides was part of the UCF team of researchers that created and observed an Airy beam for the first time in 2007. The new research published today is by Christodoulides and scientists from the Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique in Montreal, San Francisco State University, and four other institutions in Scotland, France and China.