Lasers are contributing to advances in medicine, machinery and telecommunications that in turn are creating better lasers, says a physicist who uses lasers to study subtle differences in atoms.

Lasers are being used to create thin-tempered surfaces in gears and machinery, avoiding problems of brittleness created when a complete part is tempered, said Jim Kelly, a University of Idaho researcher who spoke at Utah State University.Lasers are also used in optical switches, computers, telecommunications, controlled methods of burning and in drilling precise holes in substances such as diamonds.

"Laser science and technology have driven each other," Kelly said. "Better lasers have meant better science, which means better lasers."

Lasers allow researchers to make atoms "do what we want them to do in fantastic ways," Kelly said. "Lasers allow better measurement of molecular and atomic systems. We can get time and distance measurements. We can learn about atomic collisions."

Kelly recently received a Presidential Young Investigator Award from the National Science Foundation. The award provides $25,000 per year for five years for research.