University of Washington researchers used an infrared laser to cool water by about two degrees Celsius, becoming the first to solve a decades-old puzzle.

"Typically, when you go to the movies and see Star Wars laser blasters, they heat things up. This is the first example of a laser beam that will refrigerate liquids like water under everyday conditions," said senior author Peter Pauzauskie, UW assistant professor of materials science and engineering.

The discovery could help industrial users 'point cool' tiny areas with a focused point of light.

Microprocessors, for instance, might someday use a laser beam to cool specific components in computer chips to prevent overheating and enable more efficient information processing.

Scientists could also use a laser beam to precisely cool a portion of a cell as it divides or repairs itself, essentially slowing these rapid processes down and giving researchers the opportunity to see how they work.

Researchers chose infrared light for its cooling laser with biological applications in mind, as visible light could give cells a damaging 'sunburn'.

They demonstrated that the laser could refrigerate saline solution and cell culture media that are commonly used in genetic and molecular research.

The study was published in the journal PNAS.

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