The Innumerous Benefits Of Laser Technology
New applications of laser technology are being developed constantly. Laser technology was long the stuff of science fiction, but today it is used in CD players, dental drills, laser saws, high-speed metal cutting machines, measuring systems and a host of other products.
The word laser stands for Light Amplification by the Stimulation Emission of Radiation. In 1916, Albert Einstein developed the theory of Stimulated Emission. Simply put, it is a process where a photon is emitted from an atom and crashed into other atoms, causing them to also emit photons. In a vacuum chamber, more and more photons bounce around, raising the energy level within the chamber. When the energy has built up sufficiently, it exits the chamber as a narrow beam of light. Although Einstein’s work was explored during the 1920s, it was largely forgotten until, in 1954, Charles Townes, an American physicist, started investigating microwave light.
The 60s heralded new breakthroughs in laser technology. Theodore Maiman built the first working optical light laser in 1960. It used a solid state laser that incorporated a synthetic ruby. The first semiconductor laser was developed in 1962.
Today, the three most common lasers are gas, solid state and semiconductor.
Helium-neon lasers are the cheapest visible light lasers. In 1974, they were used as bar code scanners, first in grocery stores and now in many large retail stores. The laser is scanned across a bar code and tells the cash register’s computer the price of the item. It can also provide information on sale discounts, stock numbers and inventory.
Lasers are used by surveyors and machinists to measure distance and align parts. They are used to measure the speed of light in a laboratory, distances on a street or movement along an earthquake fault.
Argon lasers are used by the medical profession to make incisions that are more precise than scalpels. There is less scarring with lasers because they can be used in place of sutures to fuse the incision together after surgery. Lasers are used in eye surgery to weld the retina back together. Lasers are also used to correct poor vision by reshaping the cornea. One of the newest medical uses for lasers is to make small holes in the heart so that pathways are created for new blood flow. This helps prevent heart attacks. The only downside is the increased cost over traditional surgeries.
Argon lasers make holograms, and are used in spectrochemistry, optical image processing, semiconductor processing and laser light shows.
Solid state lasers
Solid state lasers are used for cutting, welding, heat treating and marking of materials. Jewelers can do very precise cuts when using lasers to cut fine gems. Lasers allow better cuts on metals and the welding of dissimilar metals.
Scientists use solid state lasers to detect the slightest movements in matter. Law enforcement has long used laser technology for gauging the speed of cars. The military is using solid state lasers in rangefinders, laser guided bombs and satellite communications systems.
The largest lasers in the world are solid state lasers. Many of the laser projectors for light shows and for other laser displays use solid state rather than argon or krypton gas lasers.
Semiconductors are used to produce lasers with invisible light. The first successful consumer product to include a laser, the laserdisc player, was introduced in 1978. In 1983, the compact disc player was introduced. Currently, lasers are also used in DVD players, cellular phones, laser printers and wireless Internet transmission.