“What can be used to drill a hole through a diamond or perform delicate eye surgery? … trigger a nuclear explosion or measure the distance to the moon? That’s right – a laser beam. This special form of light, produced by a machine called a laser, is the most powerful we know. Laser light is different from the light given off by a candle or a light bulb or the sun. Ordinary light fans out in all directions, but the light from a laser stays tightly focused in a narrow beam. Since laser light doesn’t waste its energy by spreading out, it is very brilliant and intense. A pencil-thin laser beam is powerful enough to cut through concrete or steel. Because laser light is so concentrated, it can travel long distances. Even a low-powered laser – one that produces less energy than an ordinary light bulb – can send send a light beam all the way to the moon and back.”
When lasers were invented in 1960, they were called “a solution looking for a problem”. Since then, they have become ubiquitous, finding utility in thousands of highly varied applications in every section of modern society, including consumer electronics, information technology, science, medicine, industry, law enforcement, entertainment, and the military. Fiber-optic communicationusing lasers is a key technology in modern communications, allowing services such as the Internet.
The first use of lasers in the daily lives of the general population was the supermarket barcode scanner, introduced in 1974. The laserdisc player, introduced in 1978, was the first successful consumer product to include a laser but the compact disc player was the first laser-equipped device to become common, beginning in 1982 followed shortly by laser printers.
Some other uses are:
- Medicine: Bloodless surgery, laser healing, surgical treatment, kidney stone treatment, eye treatment, dentistry.
- Industry: Cutting, welding, material heat treatment, marking parts, non-contact measurement of parts.
- Military: Marking targets, guiding munitions, missile defence, electro-optical countermeasures (EOCM), alternative to radar, blinding troops.
- Law enforcement: used for latent fingerprint detection in the forensic identification field.
- Research: Spectroscopy, laser ablation, laser annealing, laser scattering, laser interferometry, lidar, laser capture microdissection, fluorescence microscopy, metrology.
- Product development/commercial: laser printers, optical discs (e.g. CDs and the like), barcode scanners, thermometers, laser pointers, holograms, bubblegrams.
- Laser lighting displays: Laser light shows.
- Cosmetic skin treatments: acne treatment, cellulite and striae reduction, and hair removal.
- Cat Toys: Cat with laser pointer on head.
Here are a few ways lasers will be used in the future:
- Holograms: Many experts believe that advances in laser technology will lead to the eventual perfection of holography.
- Weapons: The early 80s saw the development of the Star Wars program, dreamt up by the team at the Strategic Defense Initiative. In 2009, Obama eventually canned the project but research in military usage still continues.
- Painless surgery: Sciton BroadBand Light uses pulsed light for skin rejuvenation, showed how a 70-year-old’s skin cells, after treatment, to be like those of a woman in her twenties, with zero downtime.
- Quantum computing: Due to current constraints of transistors and machine parts, information can only move so fast. As a result, bottlenecks form. Lasers might be able to eliminate such bottlenecks by using light instead of electricity to process the information.
In 1905 when Albert Einstein described the then unknown process of stimulated photon emission, he and other scientists did not foresee the invention of the laser and its fantastic number of uses. As has happened so many times in the history of science, one person’s idea grew to transform the world. And this transformation will surely continue.