The Little Chill
An erbium-doped glass cools when hit by laser light, as measured in the central yellow-red region of this infrared image. Other dopants can accomplish the same trick, but erbium is better suited to common laser wavelengths and powers. Image Credit: Phys. Rev. Lett. 96, 033001 (2006)
Some lasers can burn through solids, but others, shined on the right materials, have a chilling effect. Researchers recently reported that two materials containing the element erbium cool when exposed to laser light. Other researchers have seen the effect with other elements, but erbium would allow cooling at wavelengths and powers reachable by common laser diodes, suggesting that small refrigeration devices for electronics and other high-tech purposes might be possible.