Alt-week takes a look at the best science and alternative tech stories.
It's 2013 and yet somehow we haven't ascended into a creature made of pure energy, so we'd better put some clothes on and get back to work. We've got lasers that are made from gas, a team of student physicists that are determined to prove George Lucas wrong, the world's oldest underground railway celebrating its sesquicentennial and we'll learn how the NYPD wants to track drug addicts with GPS. If that doesn't sound like the Alt-weekiest Alt-week you ever did see, then we can't be friends.
A team of physicists from the Institut Non Linéaire de Nice have discovered how to produce a laser from a cloud of gas for the first time. Normally, Lasers amplify light by bouncing it around inside a confined space like a crystal, simulating the emission of radiation. While the phenomenon has been found on other planets, reproducing the effect on Earth has been difficult, because gas is less ordered and refined than your average crystal. The team succeeded by using a cloud of rubidium in a magneto-optical trap, and the discovery should help scientists understand more about gas lasers and help them to discover new forms of artificial light.
The world's oldest underground railway had its 150th birthday earlier in the month, and Google celebrated the moment with a Harry Beck-themed doodle. London's Metropolitan railway opened up on January 9th 1863 and has been serving customers ever since. London Underground will also be recreating the journey by pulling a steam locomotive between Paddington and Farringdon -- the hottest ticket in town, give or take the odd show.
The NYPD is working with pharmacies in New York to add GPS trackers to OxyContin bottles in order to track thieves across the city. Commissioner Ray Kelly is announcing a plan that'll give pharmacists "bait" bottles to hand over the next time they're robbed, letting the police know exactly where they end up. Commissioner Kelly is also asking researchers to develop trackers small enough to fit inside an individual pill -- which sounds great for law enforcement officials, but might make the ACLU wince a little.
From Star Wars to that Windows screensaver, everyone knows what Hyperspace looks like. As your vessel makes the jump, the stars instantly become streaks of light that zoom past your eyes. Except a quartet of students from Leicester think that the reality would be closer to staring into a light bulb. Thanks to Doppler blue-shift, visible light would shorten and shift into the X-ray spectrum, while cosmic background radiation would go the other way. The result would be a central disc of bright light that emits so much pressure that it'd feel like you were trapped at the bottom of the ocean. Riley Connors, one of the students determined to disprove George Lucas said that "sunglasses would certainly be advisable," as well as some lead-lined clothes to keep out all of those X-rays.
Seen any other far-out articles that you'd like considered for Alt-week? Working on a project or research that's too cool to keep to yourself? Drop us a line at alt [at] engadget [dot] com.
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