Laser technology might seem futuristic, but it has actually been around for decades. Lasers are more common than you might think. They aren’t just used in light shows or other high-tech installations. They’re used in tons of different technologies, some you might already be using yourself without really realising it. So if you want to know a bit more about lasers along with how they work, you’ve found the right article for you.
In this article, we’re going to dive a bit deeper into the subject of lasers so that you know what they do and what they can be used for. You might be surprised to find out that you already use tech that has lasers in it. There are tons of uses for laser technology, and if you want to know how they work—then keep reading this article.
How does a laser differ from regular light?
If you’re wondering exactly what a laser is before we even look at how they work, then keep reading. A laser is a powerful beam of light. However, it differest from standard light. It’s a bit of an understatement to just say it’s more powerful. Lasers are a lot more powerful.
A laser manipulates the waves of light so that they become increasingly powerful and have more and more energy in them. These waves of light become even more powerful and have a lot more energy in them. That’s how a laser starts.
Regular light is actually made up of all the colours at every frequency. However, lasers are just one specific colour and frequency so is therefore made up of what’s known as monochromatic light. This is often green or red, but can also be invisible like with an ultraviolet or infrared laser.
Lasers have a much narrower beam and do not spread light out like regular lights. This can make the light go a much greater distance and is referred to as highly collimated.
Another difference between lasers and regular lights is that the light in a laser beam is not mixed up like that in regular light. That means that the crest of every wave of light joins up neatly with the crest of every other wave. This makes laser light “coherent” which is the term used for this in physics. Regular light is not coherent and has lots of waves crashing into each other.
How do lasers work?
Now you know a bit more about the difference between lasers and “normal” light, we can start looking at how they work in a bit more detail. It’s worth remembering these basics as they let us know the reasons why a laser can be so precise and powerful, as well as such good uses of energy.
Lasers work by making atoms create or push out photons, which are light particles. These light particles are pushed out all at the same time so that they form that coherent, concentrated beam of light that makes lasers so useful.
To make a laser you need atoms, but these can be either solid, liquid or gas. You will also need electrons to stimulate them. This process is known as the medium, and relates to how electrons stimulate atoms. You’ll also need something to cause the atoms to get stimulated and start the process, this can be a flash tube or another laser.
Standard red lasers have a long ruby in them. This would have a flash tube around it, which might seem like a strip of fluorescent light.
The flash tube would then flash every so often to create the laser beam. The flash tube is normally connected to a high-voltage power source which makes the tube flash.
Each time the tube flashes, energy is pushed into the ruby. This injects energy into the ruby with protons.
After this, atoms in the ruby soak the energy up, or absorb it. This happens when the electrons in an atom increase to a higher level of energy. This whole process will only take a few milliseconds until the electrons decrease in energy level back to their original state, but they give off a photon of light in the process, which is known as spontaneous emission.
Then, the photons go up and down the inside of the ruby at the speed of light. When one of these photons stimulates an atom that has already had an increase in state, another photon is released and the original photon moves back as well. This is known as stimulated emission, and it means that one photon of light has produced another one. That means the light has been amplified, or has increased in strength.
At the end of the laser tube there will be a mirror which keeps the photons moving backwards and fowards inside the ruby. However, a partial mirror is used at one end that bounces some photons back but allows some to escape. It’s these escaped photons that create the concentrated beam of a laser. And that’s how lasers work. it’s quite complicated, so you might want to look up some diagrams if you need a bit more help understanding.
What are lasers used for?
Lasers are used for all sorts of things, from CD players to cutting tools. They are also big in the communication industry and are a big part of fiber optic cables and the internet. While there are lots of high-tech solutions for powerful lasers, there are also small ones in some more basic tools and technology, like barcode scanners.
Lasers are also experimented with in the defense industry, and are an important part of military technology. It’s here where lasers might be most famous, and especially in Sci-Fi. However, lasers are far more common than that and have loads of domestic uses, especially on smaller scales. You’ve already got tons of stuff around your home that uses lasers in it.