Do you remember when the laser got you? What piece of technology or which expert made you choose a career in this field? I had almost forgotten about it, but last week I was reminded of my own pivotal point. It must have been in 1993, when I was studying physics at the Free University of Berlin. A team there had made a project to measure air pollution over big cities using an ultrashort-pulsed laser and a new technology called light detection and ranging (lidar). They made measurement campaigns around the world, using a laser system built into a van. They even started a company. That was cool enough to make me listen to a lecture series on ultrashort-pulsed lasers, and to write a thesis on this field. And so, the laser got me.
Now it's 2021, and I've come across a follow-up project: a team of scientists build a laser to catch a lightning bolt. The ultrashort-pulsed laser is steered in the sky, builds a plasma channel, and that should guide the flash to a huge telecom antenna on the Swiss mountain Säntis.
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