United States

Exploring How Lasers Work

Laser is a term that people have likely heard though they may not know that it is an acronym that stands for light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation. Lasers are created when electrons in atoms in crystals, special glasses, or gases absorb energy that comes from another laser or an electrical current. This causes the electrons to move from a low energy orbit into a high energy orbit around the nucleus of the atom. When the electrons then return to their normal state, they emit photons, which are particles of light. The photons are all the same wavelength and therefore are considered coherent. Coherent means that the troughs and crests of the light wave are all the same. Ordinary visible light is made of multiple different wavelengths and is therefore not considered coherent.

Laser Light VS Normal Light

Laser light differs from normal light in several ways. Laser light contains only one specific color, or wavelength. The amount of energy released by an electron when it drops back to a low orbit will determine the particular wavelength of laser light. Laser light differs from normal light in that it is directional, meaning that it creates a very tight beam. On the other hand, normal light such as a flashlight or lamp, diffuses because it is not coherent. Laser light has the ability to stay focused for very long distances due to the fact that it is coherent.

Various Fields of Use

Lasers are used for many purposes in everyday life, for example in tattoo removal, eye surgery, hair replacement, and more. With eye surgery, lasers can be used to seal broken blood vessels, repair detached retinas, and improve vision. Eye surgery procedures using laser light are painless as the laser light has the ability to pass straight through the patient's eye. Lasers are also commonly used in cutting tools to produce precise cuts in materials such as plastic, metal, and ceramic. Cutting tools with lasers have grown in popularity due to their precision and computer control.

Another use for lasers is scientific research. In the time since lasers have been invented, they have become much more precise, powerful, and smaller. The world's most powerful laser is called the National Ignition Facility and it was developed by scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The National Ignition Facility, or NIF was developed for the purpose of nuclear research. NIF cost more than one billion dollars to develop and is currently housed in a building ten stories high and big enough to cover three football fields.

First Laser Invented in 1960

There are many different kinds of lasers and not all of them work exactly the same. For instance very large lasers differ a bit from smaller lasers in how they work. Two men by the name of Arthur Leonard Schawlow and Charles Hard Townes are often credited with inventing the first laser however this honor actually belongs to a man by the name of Theodore Maiman. Maiman built the first laser in 1960 based on earlier work done by Townes and Schawlow.

Additional Resources for Learning About Lasers



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