The first functioning laser was constructed in 1960 by American Theodore Maiman and just two years later, the Vilnius University (VU) sent three Lithuanian students to Moscow to study laser physics. Upon their return to Lithuania with PhDs in hand, they initiated laser physics research in Lithuania in VU (Algis Piskarskas) and the Lithuanian Academy of Science (Evaldas Maldutis). Furthermore, the first laser was started up in the VU semiconductor laboratory already in 1966.
Lithuania’s early start with the technology and consistent work ever since have allowed the country to establish a presence among industry leaders, in no small part also thanks to a robust interaction between researchers and the private sector staff, nurtured from study times and permitting a deep understanding of one another’s challenges. This has allowed for effective pursuit of solutions together.
An excellent example of this interaction is the ELI (Extreme Light Infrastructure) ALPS project in Hungary. The heart of this project is the laser which is constructed and finished this year by the Lithuanian companies Ekspla and Light Conversion, using a technology proposed by Vilnius University in 1992, which was later developed, becoming one of the more popular solutions in high power laser systems. The peak power of the ELI-ALPS laser reaches almost 5 TW (5*1012W) and the laser emits pulses of 10 fsec at 1 kHz repetition rate.
Another laser in other ELI Beamlines project will be installed in the building near Prague in Czech Republic. It will be the most powerful laser in the world. It is being constructed through a joint project between Ekspla and the American National Energetics, Inc company. The laser’s pulse power will reach 10PW, that is 10*1015Watt.
A decade ago there were 10 companies working in laser sector in Lithuania, now the number has swelled to 30. The laser sector employs 900 people, 200 of them being scientists (in science and study institutions). Over the past ten years, the Lithuanian laser industry’s sales have risen from 21 million euro (2006) to 90 million euro (2016). Lithuania has had great success in producing lasers for scientific research with 90 universities in the world top 100 having Lithuanian lasers. The market for industrial lasers is much larger and while Lithuania has so far had a smaller entry into it, this has been expanding, with already some fifty percent of the country’s laser exports being for industrial use. Not everything is about export either, while laser sales in Lithuania comprise only some small fraction of the total, this is a quite fast growing segment; proof of Lithuania having an increasing number of high-tech companies of its own that can afford lasers and their components.
Lithuanian lasers are valued across the world in a variety of sectors, ranging from relatively low power air-cooled lasers that can function off of even car or solar batteries, to extremely high power laser systems such as built for European ELI projects. Lithuanian companies provide both standard warehoused components and unique solutions, based on client’s specific needs. The main focus markets for the companies are in Asia, as well as Western Europe, USA and Scandinavia.
The world of lasers and their use may appear arcane to the layman, but just to give an example UAB Femtika boasts of being able to make a microscopic copy of any item, imitating all of its features, for example a mechanical pump smaller than a hair or even a centimeter-tall house, feature full to the extent of having furniture with items in the furniture’s drawers. Furthermore the house could have a fully functioning plumbing.
Lithuania will take part in the World of Laser Photonics Fair in Munich (Germany) which will take place in June 26-29.