Authors: George Rajna
The interaction of high-power laser light sources with matter has given rise to numerous applications including; fast ion acceleration; intense X-ray, gamma-ray, positron and neutron generation; and fast-ignition-based laser fusion.  Conventional electron accelerators have become an indispensable tool in modern research.  An outstanding conundrum on what happens to the laser energy after beams are fired into plasma has been solved in newly-published research at the University of Strathclyde.  Researchers at Lund University and Louisiana State University have developed a tool that makes it possible to control extreme UV light - light with much shorter wavelengths than visible light.  Tiny micro- and nanoscale structures within a material's surface are invisible to the naked eye, but play a big role in determining a material's physical, chemical, and biomedical properties.  A team of researchers led by Leo Kouwenhoven at TU Delft has demonstrated an on-chip microwave laser based on a fundamental property of superconductivity, the ac Josephson effect. They embedded a small section of an interrupted superconductor, a Josephson junction, in a carefully engineered on-chip cavity. Such a device opens the door to many applications in which microwave radiation with minimal dissipation is key, for example in controlling qubits in a scalable quantum computer.  Optical scientists from the Warsaw Laser Centre of the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences and the Faculty of Physics of the University of Warsaw have generated ultrashort laser pulses in an optical fiber with a method previously considered to be physically impossible.  Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Light in Erlangen have discovered a new mechanism for guiding light in photonic crystal fiber (PCF).  Scientists behind a theory that the speed of light is variable - and not constant as Einstein suggested - have made a prediction that could be tested.  Physicists’ greatest hope for 2015, then, is that one of these experiments will show where Einstein got off track, so someone else can jump in and get closer to his long-sought “theory of everything.” This article is part of our annual "Year In Ideas" package, which looks forward to the most important science stories we can expect in the coming year. It was originally published in the January 2015 issue of Popular Science. 
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