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Säntis laser successfully deflects lightning strikes

Säntis, the highest mountain in the Alpstein massif of northeastern Switzerland, provides the stage for a research project garnering international attention: On the summit of the mountain, it has been proven for the first time that intensive laser pulses can deflect lightning strikes in a targeted manner over several dozen meters.

The super laser was installed on Säntis and focused above a transmitter tower.
The super laser was installed on Säntis and focused above a transmitter tower. Image credit: TRUMPF / Martin Stollberg

The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL) is part of a European consortium that has successfully proven how lightning strikes can be deflected with the help of a high-power laser. This could in future play a part in helping to avoid forest fires, power cuts and damaged infrastructure.

For the experiment, a super laser in the form of a 1.5 meter wide, 8 meter long lightning rod weighing in at more than 3 tons was installed in the St.GallenBodenseeArea, or more specifically atop the 2,502 meter high summit of the Säntis mountain. According to an EPFL press release, this was developed and manufactured by Trumpf Scientific Lasers, a company headquartered in Baden-Württemberg in Germany with a Swiss location in Grüsch in the canton of Graubünden. The research findings have now been published in the journal “Nature Photonics”.

The EPFL contribution to the project came from the Electromagnetic Compatibility Lab (EMC) in the School of Engineering. The researchers investigated the initiation of upward lightning discharges in addition to building antennas, x-ray sensors and an interferometric system to image the lightning strikes in cooperation with the School of Engineering and Management of the canton of Vaud (HEIG-VD). “This was a remarkable experimental achievement because of the multitude of measurement stations located in mountainous region with harsh weather conditions”, explains Farhad Rachidi, who heads up the EMC, in the press release.

The laser was activated every time storm activity was forecast between June and September 2021. “The aim was to see whether there was a difference with or without the laser”, explains Aurélien Houard from the Laboratoire d’Optique Appliquée (LOA) in the press release. Thereafter, it took nearly a year to analyze the huge amount of data collected. The research consortium will now focus on increasing the height of the laser’s action even further. mm

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