Like any laser, the cell laser needs an energy source to "pump" it and increase the power of the light it can emit. The researchers pumped the living lasers by pulsing the cells with light through a microscope. As light bounces around inside the cell and is re-emitted by the fluorescent proteins, it's amplified, increasing in power before being emitted in a coherent beam. To keep the light bouncing around as long as possible, to gain as much power as possible, the Boston group placed these cells inside a biocompatible optical cavity—essentially a tiny, highly reflective, cell-shaped hole.
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