In the movies, lasers make things explode. Occasionally, they make things explode in real life, too. Even more occasionally, they do this in a way that’s beneficial, by making the explosions that we rely on every day even better. Lasers: making your daily explosions 27 percent more explodey. Let’s do it.
Unless your life is way more exciting than mine, most of your daily explosions probably take place inside the engine of your car. In a conventional internal combustion engine, a mixture of fuel and air explodes to push down a piston, converting chemical energy into mechanical energy. The explosion is triggered by spark plugs that live at the top of the combustion chamber, using sparks to ignite the fuel air mixture.
This works fine, but it’s not particularly efficient, since the ignition point is at one edge of the chamber. Engines move fast enough, and the combustion cycle is short enough, that the entire mixture doesn’t have a chance burn completely, leading to unburned fuel, which is bad for both engine efficiency and the environment.