What exactly is a laser? Is it merely a beam of light as demonstrated in the fictional shows of one’s television? Truthfully, the laser is much more complex than just the notion of a superficial, colored ray. This device is an artificial source of light that emits concentrated beams of electromagnetic radiation — in this case, visible light. A narrow beam of light is produced with almost-identical wavelengths; this allows for the ray to be condensed. The existence of the laser has been assimilated into the fields of medicine, construction, and the manufacturing industry. Common applications of this device ranges from something as miniscule as engraving objects to something as intricate and meticulous as eye surgery. Consequently, the invention of the laser is yet another success in the field of technology and scientific advancements, as it has proved to be vastly beneficial to humanity.
The development of quantum theory through extensive research has given rise to an application of quantum optics: the laser. The word “laser’ itself is an acronym for “Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation,” with emphasis on the idea of Stimulated Emission. After Albert Einstein completed his proposal in 1905 on the Photoelectric Effect, he went on to suggest another theory regarding the fundamentals of lasers (lasers were an undiscovered phenomenon at the time). In 1917, he developed the idea of “stimulated emission”: the process where “electrons could be stimulated to emit light of a particular wavelength,” and this discovery led to the mechanics of the laser itself.
Although Einstein did not physically explore the concept of lasers, the next forty years were paved into a race to complete a working model, which was pursued by many scientists who used his work as a foundation. In 1960, Theodore H. Maiman became the first to construct a working laser. He inserted a ruby rod into a metal cylinder, which gave him the edge he needed to complete his model- the synthetic ruby crystal itself contained sufficient thermal properties which absorbed and emitted light at the desired, concentrated wavelengths needed to construct a laser.
The invention of lasers has been widely beneficial to society for medicine, construction work, the manufacturing industry, and the luxury of consumer products. Like most technological advancements, lasers continue to have an increasing impact on the development of humanity.
Out of the many applications of lasers, the medical field has been the most impacted by lasers, as it is used for many intricate tasks such as cutting tissue, performing eye surgery, removing tumors/organs, as well as cosmetic uses. As stated by Professor Stephen Bown, “the real attraction of lasers is [that] you can deliver light energy with remarkable precision to almost anywhere in the human body, using different wavelengths to achieve the desired effect”. In contrast to traditional surgery in which incisions are made in patients, laser surgery allows for reduced blood loss during the process, a faster recovery, and the sterilization of tissue to prevent of bacterial infection. Additionally, laser eye surgery on average is said to have a success rate of 96% in Canada, in which patients attain 20/20 vision after the fact. Lastly, patients are able to undergo cosmetic treatment through the technology of lasers. This includes the removal of varicose veins, tattoos, or the resurfacing of wrinkled skin. Nonetheless, life-saving operations are at the fore-front of medical applications of lasers.
Further, low-powered lasers have made construction work (i.e. leveling, plumbing, squaring, aligning) efficient and convenient. Workers are able to complete tasks quickly with ease since the laser acts as a visual tool for leveling without the hassle of physically maneuvering a large device. For the safety of the construction workers, the use of lasers does not extend beyond this level of use; lasers at higher frequencies of wavelength may be too dangerous for uneducated workers, and possibly damaging to the eyes.
Another prominent use of lasers is in the manufacturing industry, where they are used “as tools capable of delivering intense cutting or welding power with high precision”. The application of lasers is present in the factories used to manufacture consumer goods such as clothing, technology, cars, toys, etc. For example, lasers are used to: create the perforated area in plastic packaging, read numerical codes using barcode scanners in stores, produce car parts such as airbags and doors — the list is vast due to its versatility. Without the technological luxury of lasers, it is presumable that healthcare would not be as advanced, construction work would not be as convenient, and manufacturing goods would take longer and require more employees. Overall, the invention of the laser has provided society with numerous benefits, and it is hard to imagine where industries would be without it.
Stimulated emission occurs in lasers, and directly follows the phenomenon of the Photoelectric Effect: when an electron in its excited state collides with an incoming photon it transitions back into its ground state, photons are released in the form of light. Unlike regular sources of light, in lasers, the released photon is identical to the one that originally triggered the transition back into the ground state. This new photon creates a wavelength that is said to be “coherent” (crests and troughs in alignment with one another) with all other wavelengths. The initial and new photon undergo the same process, stimulating the emission of other photons, in addition to hitting other atoms after reflecting off of two mirrors. From this, a variety of identical wavelengths are formed, which is what allows for lasers to be intensely concentrated emissions of light.
Bohr’s model of the atom portrays a vital aspect of understanding quantum theory-in specific: the mechanics of lasers. In his model, there are quantized energy levels that have fixed distances from the nucleus; this idea of discrete amounts is essential to the stimulated emission processes occurring within lasers. Likewise, lasers require quantized amounts of energy in order to produce consistent, monochromatic wavelengths. The continuous transition of electrons from the excited state to the ground state is what releases energy and produces a steady, concentrated ray of light. Each quanta of energy correlates to a color; altering the frequency of incoming photons would change the color that is seen (this will only be successful if the threshold frequency is fulfilled). For example, increasing the frequency would result in the production of a stronger color such as blue or purple. Different colors allow for different purposes; red lasers are weaker than blue lasers and may be used for pointers, whereas blue lasers are more intense and may be used for medical applications such as performing a cystoscopy.
Over the years, the advancement of lasers has proved to be beneficial to society through its many conveniences in the fields of medicine, construction and the manufacturing industry. The foundation of lasers emerged from the existing theory of quantum mechanics, and its uses have attained longevity in society today.
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