Hosted by Sandra Tsing Loh, The Loh Down on Science is a fun way to get your daily dose of science plus a dash of humor in less than two minutes.
Hosted by Sandra Tsing Loh
Airs Weekdays 2:43 and 3:43 a.m.

Laser Sailing

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Space...the final frontier!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Breakthrough Starshot is a globally funded engineering research project. Their mission? To send thin, sheetlike “starChips” into space and take closeup pictures of alien stars. A whole fleet of these objects is designed to sail through interstellar space powered by an earth-based laser.

Big problem though - imagine trying to steer a car straight along a bumpy road. If the chip is not constantly steered by the laser, it’ll tumble off-course and get lost forever!

But Ognjen Ilic and Harry Atwater at Caltech have found a solution. They’ve developed a texture for the bottom of the spaceship. Picture the surface of a DVD. The surface looks smooth, but is actually covered in imperceptible grooves and pits.

When a starChip begins to tilt, the patterning automatically un-tilts it. How does it work? It’s like a slinky. When you push on a slinky, it pushes back. It wants to go back to its rest position. The patterning creates the same self-stabilizing effect. Voila! Spaceship, steer thyself!

No need to “fasten your seatbelts” -- it’s not gonna be a bumpy ride!