Queen's University

Award-winning research promises improvements to laser surgery

 
2010-11-02
Paul Webster (left) and Joe Yu hold up the poster that won them first prize at the 29th Congress on Applications of Lasers and Electro-Optics poster contest.

New low-cost imaging technology could improve the safety of laser surgery. The research netted two physics graduate students first prize at the 29th Congress on Applications of Lasers and Electro-Optics poster contest.

“We are happy to get the acceptance from the community. It’s really exciting to see other people excited about what we do,” says lead author Paul Webster, who shared the award with Joe Yu. Other contributors to the project include graduate student Ben Leung, undergraduate students Logan Wright and Kevin Mortimer, and principal investigator James Fraser.

Lasers can be focused very tightly on a tiny spot, but their use is limited in some cases because the beam keeps going and it is difficult to control cut depth. The researchers’ imaging technology can look below the point of drilling and provide information that allows the surgeon to stop cutting from going too far.

In the future, the technology could improve the safety of laser surgery or allow lasers to be used for more medical procedures. On the industrial side, welders can use the technology to judge how deep the weld is penetrating. Furthermore, the imaging technology can provide valuable information about the molten metal in the drilling hole.

The poster, the only Canadian entry in a field of 50 from around the world, stood out in part because it presented a low-cost system with industrial applications. The system cost less than $10,000 in parts and is integrated into the existing laser processing head. The imaging technology is delivered together with the cutting beam.

“We demonstrated that feedback control makes a laser drill seven times more precise at cutting to a certain depth,” says Mr. Webster.

Several companies are interested in the research for both industrial and medical applications. The team is also looking at ramping up a major research operation to develop the proof of concept into a technology that is safe for surgeries and welding.

“That is a big task, but there are a lot of positive signs that we can get the financial and personnel support we need to take the next step and really help a Canadian startup company,” Mr. Webster says.
 

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