High Power Lasers

High Power Lasers

Most people are well familiar with light when it comes to white light and how it can be separated by a prism to a spectrum of colors, but life’s not all just sunshine and rainbows. Here, we’re going to get into how light can be produced so intensely that it can burn, cut, and destroy (cue evil villain laugh).

Light is comprised by photons – those confusing particle/wave things that Einstein quantified about a hundred years ago. Photons are produced by atoms absorbing and releasing energy. We’ll oversimplify it here for the sake of clarity.

All atoms have a core nucleus with electrons whizzing around them at a certain distance (or energy state). When atoms absorb energy, the electrons change the distance that they “orbit” the nucleus, but not smoothly. They jump from one discrete distance to another. They move back to a closer position (lower energy state) by spontaneously emitting photons.

Nucleus and photons in high power lasers
Nucleus and electrons in high power lasers

The color, or wavelength, of the photon emitted, depends on the type of atom it is. This is why you see green and blue flames in your bonfire pit when you toss in some of the weekly ads. The inks contain different elements like copper that give off noticeably different colors of photons. The same goes for fireworks – finely powdered metals.

High power lasers use this same sort of basic principle and construction at their core. The differences in wavelength (color) produced by the materials involved allow the lasers to be useful for different types of materials.

The basics:

Resonating Materials (shown in red):

1. Crystals (i.e. garnets, rubies, sapphires) doped with rare elements like neodymium and erbium

2. Gases like CO2, nitrogen, and noble gasses

3. Liquid organic dyes

4. Fiber optic cables with rare elements

Basically, the power source pumps light energy into the resonating tube. The light bounces back and forth between the mirrors unable to escape so that it builds up within the resonating tube until it’s strong enough to pass through the partial mirror. The injected light energy is absorbed into the atoms of the resonating material and causes the atoms to spontaneously absorb and emit photons one at a time. Occasionally, atoms are stimulated so that multiple photons are emitted. The number of photons is amplified, so the process is referred to as “light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation”, or “laser” for short.

There is a lot of complicated physics behind how this specifically works with different types of resonating materials, but we’re interested in how it’s useful. Power level, beam focus, and pulse width among other things affect what different types of lasers can do. In general, however, industrial material processing will use these 3 main types:

When you’re looking for a manufacturer for your custom application, consider these categories of equipment to cue you in on their capabilities.

Disclaimer: CDN or its affiliates may not be held responsible for the information contained within this article being used to construct a laser raygun, lightsaber, spy agent splitter, planet-destroying spaceship, or other harmful apparatus.

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