Laser for scar-free surgery – The Picosecond Infrared Laser (PIRL)

The research group of Professor R. J. Dwayne Miller recently discovered a way to transform physical substance from a solid directly into the gas phase. It involves a novel process in which energy is directly transferred from selectively excited vibrational transitions of water molecules within tissue to translational motions of the water, faster than nucleation growth. This discovery came from the first atomic movie of a structural transition to provide atomic level information on strongly driven laser phase transitions (Siwick et al., Science 2003), as well a direct measurement of the energy redistribution in liquid water (Cowan et al., Nature 2005). Think of the violence of nucleation growth in the form of bubbles in boiling water. This unarrested nucleation growth and associated cavitation/collapse generation of shock waves is completely avoided by this new mechanism. This is the key physics that has been harnessed to drive ablation faster than any damage mechanism or loss of energy in the ablated zone. During this unique process, the arising energy is not transferred to the surrounding tissue in form of thermal energy, acoustic shock waves or ionizing radiation with consecutive tissue damage. The principle of this cold ablation of tissue (cold in reference to immediate surrounding tissue) is based on particular configurations of certain laser parameters, also referred to as the DIVE effect (Desorption by impulsive vibrational excitation).

The development of this novel laser results in new laser surgery concept, that allow for more precise and tissue-conserving surgery with effectively no little scar formation, as well as for a new level in ex-vivo and in-vivo analysis of biological tissue. Here is a movie of the PIRL in action:

Ablation of a human skin sample with the PIRL laser (3x timelapse). The red laser is for orientation only. The ablated area is approx. 5 mm x 5 mm in size.

University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf   Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter

An interdisciplinary team consisting of surgeons, physicists and biochemists works at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE) and in the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter in Hamburg (MPSD) to assess the feasibility of this novel concept and to prepare the implementation into the clinical practice.


The SUREPIRL project is funded by the European Research Council as an Advanced Grant Seventh Framework Programme from Dez 2012 to Nov 2017. It was hosted at the University of Hamburg before it was moved to the MPSD in 2014. Since the start in 2012, this research group was able to verify the expected potential of the laser as a surgical and diagnostical tool and successfully continues to develop the technique.