This week, the United States Navy unveiled it's latest instrument of death, in the Laser Weapons System, or LaWS. Installed on the USS Ponce, it's capabilities were successfully reveled to the public and it has been deployed in the Persian Gulf as a defense system.
Today we commemorate it's creators, the famed prodigal physicists Chris Knight & Mitch Taylor.
Commissioned in secret under the code name "Crossbow", the CIA hired Jerry Hathaway, a physics professor at the prestigious Pacific Tech University and host of the popular science show “Everything”, to create a portable laser system with weaponized capabilities.
Hathaway personally chose students to work on the laser project without telling them it's true nature. They had hit a snag when they were unable to create a power source small enough to travel but powerful enough to create a laser beam capable of frying a drug lord from space.
One of the students was the brilliant but eccentric, Chris Knight, a senior and one of the ten finest minds in the country. Knight had been on the project since 1981 and was nearing graduation. He had come in as a freshman handpicked by Hathaway and was perceived to be the next Einstein but then a subsequent haircut and personality change turned Knight from an uptight student into a brilliant class clown.
Knight's constant skipping and desire for long series of diversions in attempts to avoid responsibility had slowed the project down, and it was then Hathaway recruited the 15 year old genius Mitch Taylor to assist Knight in an attempt to solve the power problems and complete the laser in time. His ideas on efficient fluorescent compounds were the most original he had seen.
Mitch Taylor was the first student selected during mid-winter term at Pacific Tech and was requested by Knight as a roommate because he had the impression Taylor would be the same introverted personality that Knight had been during his first three years at Pacific Tech. He wanted to mentor Taylor and tech him you could be a genius and not have to take life so seriously.
But Taylor was brought to the brink of a meltdown after an upperclassmen prank embarrassed him in front of the entire student body. He was frustrated with the direction of the project and the combination of electrical and chemical cyanide and Knight’s constant absence for the lab. On the verge of quitting Pacific Tech, Knight consoled him and confided that he was just like Taylor until he learned to not study so hard. Declaring it was a moral imperative they got back at Kent, the upperclassman who pranked Taylor, and went on their way to getting laser project back on track.
In the background, the pressure from the military on Hathaway was mounting and he in turn began to pressure Knight by blackmailing him for 5 megawatts by May or else he would flunk him and ruin his chance at a prestigious science job after graduation.
Not willing to bend to his pressure, Knight threatened to quit but Taylor, just like Knight, comforted his mentor and recited the same words he had used on him. It was a “moral imperative” to get back at Hathaway by completing the laser goal of 5 megawatts and also passing his class.
With the finals looming near and breakdowns of students the norm among study groups, it was the help of a former student Lazlo Holleyfeld, now a closet stowaway living in the walls of Pacific Tech, that gave Taylor and Knight the answers to the questions of Hathaway’s final.
All that was left was the final test firing of the laser which Knight would complete after the exam. But with no one in the room rival student Kent Tate placed oil smudges on Knights optics sabotaging his laser. When Knight fired the laser it reacted to the smudge and caught fire destroying their sample. When Kent slipped up and revealed he was the culprit Knight kicked a fridge in a fit of rage and fell to the ground defeated. It was in this moment that he had an epiphany.
A cylinder filled with liquid nitrogen that Knight used to cut ice coins and buy coffee and snacks with had fallen out of the freezer onto the ground next to him. It gave Knight the idea using bromine to freeze and create a chemical laser.
Knight realized he could synthesize excited bromide in an argon matrix creating an excimer frozen in an excited state. A chemical laser in solid not gaseous form. Put simply (in deference to Kent) it is like lasing a stick of dynamite. As soon as a field is applied they would couple into a state that radiatively coupled to the ground state.
Knight figured he could extract at least ten to the twenty- first photons per cubic centimeter which would give one kilojoule per cubic centimeter at 600 nanometers, or one mega joule per liter, which we all know, is hotter than the sun and small because it's supposed to be small.
Unfortunately the successful test fire that lead to this prominent discovery (and damage that streaked throughout campus) also meant the laser was ready for delivery to the military and Hathaway would come away a very rich man.
It wasn't until Lazlo confronted Knight and laid down the details of the project that Knight had overlooked. He was more interested in the science (and the partying) instead of asking what was the true goal of the project, which was as a military weapon. Realizing his mistake, Knight banned together with Taylor and their friends to sabotage the military test that would activate the laser on a moving target and approve it for use. They installed custom chips that changed the coordinates to misfire the laser and cause to burn itself out. The new coordinates to fire upon Hathaway's newly renovated home that had been filled with over a ton of popcorn (which Hathaway hates). The popcorn over flooded the home destroying it and spread popcorn everywhere bringing the neighborhood children together to rejoice in it like newly fallen soft snow.
Hathaway arrived at the end of the day to a destroyed home, filled with his most hated allergen, awaiting fraud charges that he subsequently would be convicted of. He is currently serving an 80 year sentence in a federal penitentiary and will be eligible for parole in 2035. The original Knight-Taylor research was discovered on a Video Home System and sold to the military in a secret back alley deal probably involving precision snipers, ninjas, and a new species of Predator.
So in honor of the creators of enormous Swiss cheese, Christ Knight and Mitch Taylor, we salute you!
-Who & Ted