Tee-mobile: the nanolaser technology set to print tiny phones into clothing

Mobile phones shrank in size for more than 20 years until we started to need bigger screens, but now a group of scientists are working on technology that could make phones so small they would be able to be printed onto clothing.

Researchers from Monash University, Australia, are investigating ‘spaser’ technology that will allow the tiny printing to take place.

The technology means that mobile phones could become so small, efficient and flexible they could be printed.

This doesn’t take into account the user experience, or what would happen when clothes are needed to be washed, but the shows how minute the technology could be in the future.

A spaser is a nanoscale laser, or nanolaser, that emits light through the vibrations of free electrons, rather than the space-consuming processes in traditional lasers.

The research used grapheme and carbon nanotubes, which are stronger than steel and can conduct heat and electricity better than copper.

Their research showed for the first time that graphene and carbon nanotubes can interact and transfer energy to each other through light – this makes them idea for applications such as computer chips.

“There is the possibility that in the future an extremely thin mobile phone could be printed on clothing.”

Chanaka Rupasinghe, a PhD student and the lead researcher of the project, said the new spaser would offer new possibilities compared to those that have previously been invented.

“Other spasers designed to date are made of gold or silver nanoparticles and semiconductor quantum dots while our device would be comprised of a graphene resonator and a carbon nanotube gain element,” Chanaka said.

“The use of carbon means our spaser would be more robust and flexible, would operate at high temperatures, and be eco-friendly. Because of these properties, there is the possibility that in the future an extremely thin mobile phone could be printed on clothing.”


The researchers say spaser-based devices can be used as an alternative to current transistor-based devices such as microprocessors, memory and displays to overcoming the problems with miniaturising and bandwidth limitations.

The term spaser, which stands for ‘surface plasmon amplification by stimulated emission of radiation’ was first used by David Bergman and Mark Stockman in 2003.

Chanaka said a spaser generated high-intensity electric fields concentrated into a nanoscale space.

The researcher added: “Graphene and carbon nanotubes can be used in applications where you need strong, lightweight, conducting, and thermally stable materials due to their outstanding mechanical, electrical and optical properties.

They have been tested as nanoscale antennas, electric conductors and waveguides.”

Featured image courtesy of Adam Russel via Flickr/creative commons 

Image 2 courtesy of Monash University

Planetary Policies: Why the Mars Mission is Shaking Up International Space Law

Manned missions to Mars are becoming a serious prospect, with NASA chief Charles Bolden suggesting yesterday that they could turn humanity into a multi-planet species.

However, according to the research professor of space policy and international affairs at the George Washington University, Dr Henry Hertzfeld, space law has a lot of catching up to do if it is to address the issues raised by missions to the red planet.

Speaking at today’s Humans 2 Mars Summit in Washington DC, the US, Hertzfeld explained that existing treaties do not cover the possibility of visiting Mars.

“There’s nothing, nothing at all that prohibits us from going to Mars in the space treaties,” explained Hertzfeld. “In fact they are organised for exploration, for scientific purposes, for freedom of access, for international cooperation and of course, underlying all of them, for peaceful purposes. But there are a couple of issues which we’ll have to deal with.”


One of the issues that Hertzfeld believes could occur is the matter of sovereignty. The 1967 Outer Space Treaty prevents governments from claiming ownership of celestial bodies such as the moon or other planets.

In principle, this makes a lot of sense: it stops certain countries claiming other planets before other countries have developed the means to leave earth, and ensures that space-based resources are there for everybody to enjoy.

But if Mars becomes colonised, this could muddy the waters. Would the inhabitants be permitted some form of ownership similar to earth? Or would ownership be treated differently from its equivalent on our home planet?

“People when they go somewhere want to own things,” explained Hertzfeld. “We do not have a solution to how we handle that yet, but there are many ways that we can address this issue without a serious problem.”


Other issues relate to the role of private companies in space travel. Over the past few years private companies have taken on a lot of roles relating to space missions, but the law has not changed to reflect this.

“There are major regulatory differences depending on whether a government is doing the project, whether a private company is or if it’s some sort of partnership, be it partnership between governments and companies, or international cooperative partnerships,” said Hertzfield.

One of the key issues in this area is liability – who is to blame if something goes wrong? With space travel in particular, there is a high element of risk, and clarifying liability before projects go ahead is vital for long-term mission success.

Another concern is the types of activities being performed in such missions. Is the mission purely research-focussed, or are companies looking to make a profit?

The biggest question is whether Mars should be treated the same as the moon, and so follow the same rules and regulations relating to exploration, or whether it should be treated differently and a potential second home for humanity.

NASA’s other missions may also bring similar concerns – with a planned asteroid mission underway, there is a question of whether asteroids should be treated the same as the moon.

“At least emotionally we think of [asteroids] differently, and we may have to have some sort of set of rules that will deal with these,” said Hertzfield.

Featured and first body image courtesy of NASA.

Second image screenshot from Humans 2 Mars webcast.