List of laser applications

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Curiosity Mars rover uses a laser to test rocks

Many scientific, military, medical and commercial laser applications have been developed since the invention of the laser in 1958. The coherency, high monochromaticity, and ability to reach extremely high powers are all properties which allow for these specialized applications.

Scientific[edit]

In science, lasers are used in many ways, including:

Lasers may also be indirectly used in spectroscopy as a micro-sampling system, a technique termed Laser ablation (LA), which is typically applied to ICP-MS apparatus resulting in the powerful LA-ICP-MS.

The principles of laser spectroscopy are discussed by Demtröder[1] and the use of tunable lasers in spectroscopy are described in Tunable Laser Applications.[2]

Spectroscopy[edit]

Most types of laser are an inherently pure source of light; they emit near-monochromatic light with a very well defined range of wavelengths. By careful design of the laser components, the purity of the laser light (measured as the "linewidth") can be improved more than the purity of any other light source. This makes the laser a very useful source for spectroscopy. The high intensity of light that can be achieved in a small, well collimated beam can also be used to induce a nonlinear optical effect in a sample, which makes techniques such as Raman spectroscopy possible. Other spectroscopic techniques based on lasers can be used to make extremely sensitive detectors of various molecules, able to measure molecular concentrations in the parts-per-1012 (ppt) level. Due to the high power densities achievable by lasers, beam-induced atomic emission is possible: this technique is termed Laser induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS).

Heat Treatment[edit]

Heat treating with lasers allows selective surface hardening against wear with little or no distortion of the component. Because this eliminates much part reworking that is currently done, the laser system's capital cost is recovered in a short time. An inert, absorbent coating for laser heat treatment has also been developed that eliminates the fumes generated by conventional paint coatings during the heat-treating process with CO2 laser beams.

One consideration crucial to the success of a heat treatment operation is control of the laser beam irradiance on the part surface. The optimal irradiance distribution is driven by the thermodynamics of the laser-material interaction and by the part geometry.

Typically, irradiances between 500-5000 W/cm^2 satisfy the thermodynamic constraints and allow the rapid surface heating and minimal total heat input required. For general heat treatment, a uniform square or rectangular beam is one of the best options. For some special applications or applications where the heat treatment is done on an edge or corner of the part, it may be better to have the irradiance decrease near the edge to prevent melting.

Lunar laser ranging[edit]

When the Apollo astronauts visited the moon, they planted retroreflector arrays to make possible the Lunar Laser Ranging Experiment. Laser beams are focused through large telescopes on Earth aimed toward the arrays, and the time taken for the beam to be reflected back to Earth measured to determine the distance between the Earth and Moon with high accuracy.

Photochemistry[edit]

Some laser systems, through the process of modelocking, can produce extremely brief pulses of light - as short as picoseconds or femtoseconds (10−12 - 10−15 seconds). Such pulses can be used to initiate and analyse chemical reactions, a technique known as photochemistry. The short pulses can be used to probe the process of the reaction at a very high temporal resolution, allowing the detection of short-lived intermediate molecules. This method is particularly useful in biochemistry, where it is used to analyse details of protein folding and function.

Laser barcode scanners[edit]

Laser barcode scanners are ideal for applications that require high speed reading of linear codes or stacked symbols. From small products for embedded OEM applications to rugged laser barcode scanners for industrial use, Microscan offers a wide range of quality products to read linear barcodes and stacked symbols, with features such as high speed reading, wide field of view, symbol reconstruction, and aggressive decoding technology.

Laser cooling[edit]

A technique that has recent success is laser cooling. This involves atom trapping, a method where a number of atoms are confined in a specially shaped arrangement of electric and magnetic fields. Shining particular wavelengths of laser light at the ions or atoms slows them down, thus cooling them. As this process is continued, they all are slowed and have the same energy level, forming an unusual arrangement of matter known as a Bose–Einstein condensate.

Nuclear fusion[edit]

Some of the world's most powerful and complex arrangements of multiple lasers and optical amplifiers are used to produce extremely high intensity pulses of light of extremely short duration. These pulses are arranged such that they impact pellets of tritiumdeuterium simultaneously from all directions, hoping that the squeezing effect of the impacts will induce atomic fusion in the pellets. This technique, known as "inertial confinement fusion", so far has not been able to achieve "breakeven", that is, so far the fusion reaction generates less power than is used to power the lasers, but research continues.

Microscopy[edit]

Confocal laser scanning microscopy and Two-photon excitation microscopy make use of lasers to obtain blur-free images of thick specimens at various depths. Laser capture microdissection use lasers to procure specific cell populations from a tissue section under microscopic visualization.

Additional laser microscopy techniques include harmonic microscopy, four-wave mixing microscopy[3] and interferometric microscopy.[4]

Military[edit]

Military uses of lasers include applications such as target designation and ranging, defensive countermeasures, communications and directed energy weapons.

Directly as an energy weapon[edit]

Directed energy weapons are being developed, such as Boeing's Airborne Laser which was constructed inside a Boeing 747. Designated the YAL-1, it was intended to kill short- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles in their boost phase.[5]

  • Made by Northrop Grumman:
    • On March 18, 2009 Northrop Grumman announced that its engineers in Redondo Beach had successfully built and tested an electric laser capable of producing a 100-kilowatt ray of light, powerful enough to destroy cruise missiles, artillery, rockets and mortar rounds.[6] An electric laser is theoretically capable, according to Brian Strickland, manager for the United States Army's Joint High Power Solid State Laser program, of being mounted in an aircraft, ship, or vehicle because it requires much less space for its supporting equipment than a chemical laser.[7]
    • On April 6, 2011, the U.S. Navy successfully tested a laser gun, manufactured by Northrop Grumman, that was mounted on the former USS Paul F. Foster, which is currently used as the navy's test ship. When engaged during the test that occurred off the coast of Central California in the Pacific Ocean test range, the laser gun was documented as having "a destructive effect on a high-speed cruising target", said Chief of Naval Research Admiral Nevin Carr.[8]
    • Northrop Grumman has announced the availability of a high-energy solid-state laser weapon system that they call FIRESTRIKE, introduced on 13 November 2008. The system is modular, using 15 kW modules that can be combined to provide various levels of power.

Defensive countermeasures[edit]

Defensive countermeasure applications can range from compact, low power infrared countermeasures to high power, airborne laser systems. IR countermeasure systems use lasers to confuse the seeker heads on heat-seeking anti-aircraft missiles. High power boost-phase intercept laser systems use a complex system of lasers to find, track and destroy intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM). In this type of system a chemical laser, one in which the laser operation is powered by an energetic chemical reaction, is used as the main weapon beam (see Airborne Laser). The Mobile Tactical High-Energy Laser (MTHEL) is another defensive laser system under development; this is envisioned as a field-deployable weapon system able to track incoming artillery projectiles and cruise missiles by radar and destroy them with a powerful deuterium fluoride laser.

Another example of direct use of a laser as a defensive weapon was researched for the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI, nicknamed "Star Wars"), and its successor programs. This project would use ground-based or space-based laser systems to destroy incoming intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). The practical problems of using and aiming these systems were many; particularly the problem of destroying ICBMs at the most opportune moment, the boost phase just after launch. This would involve directing a laser through a large distance in the atmosphere, which, due to optical scattering and refraction, would bend and distort the laser beam, complicating the aiming of the laser and reducing its efficiency.

Another idea from the SDI project was the nuclear-pumped X-ray laser. This was essentially an orbiting atomic bomb, surrounded by laser media in the form of glass rods; when the bomb exploded, the rods would be bombarded with highly-energetic gamma-ray photons, causing spontaneous and stimulated emission of X-ray photons in the atoms making up the rods. This would lead to optical amplification of the X-ray photons, producing an X-ray laser beam that would be minimally affected by atmospheric distortion and capable of destroying ICBMs in flight. The X-ray laser would be a strictly one-shot device, destroying itself on activation. Some initial tests of this concept were performed with underground nuclear testing; however, the results were not encouraging. Research into this approach to missile defense was discontinued after the SDI program was cancelled.

Disorientation[edit]

Some weapons simply use a laser to disorient a person. One such weapon is the Thales Green Laser Optical Warner.[20]

Targeting[edit]

Target designator[edit]

Main article: Laser designator
A target designator

Another military use of lasers is as a laser target designator. This is a low-power laser pointer used to indicate a target for a precision-guided munition, typically launched from an aircraft. The guided munition adjusts its flight-path to home in to the laser light reflected by the target, enabling a great precision in aiming. The beam of the laser target designator is set to a pulse rate that matches that set on the guided munition to ensure munitions strike their designated targets and do not follow other laser beams which may be in use in the area. The laser designator can be shone onto the target by an aircraft or nearby infantry. Lasers used for this purpose are usually infrared lasers, so the enemy cannot easily detect the guiding laser light.

Firearms[edit]

Laser sight[edit]

Laser sight used by the Israel Defense Forces during commando training
Smith & Wesson revolver equipped with a laser sight mounted on the trigger guard.

The laser has in most firearms applications been used as a tool to enhance the targeting of other weapon systems. For example, a laser sight is a small, usually visible-light laser placed on a handgun or a rifle and aligned to emit a beam parallel to the barrel. Since a laser beam has low divergence, the laser light appears as a small spot even at long distances; the user places the spot on the desired target and the barrel of the gun is aligned (but not necessarily allowing for bullet drop, windage, distance between the direction of the beam and the axis of the barrel, and the target mobility while the bullet travels).

Most laser sights use a red laser diode. Others use an infrared diode to produce a dot invisible to the naked human eye but detectable with night vision devices. The firearms adaptive target acquisition module LLM01 laser light module combines visible and infrared laser diodes. In the late 1990s, green diode pumped solid state laser (DPSS) laser sights (532 nm) became available. Modern laser sights are small and light enough for attachment to the firearms.

In 2007, LaserMax, a company specializing in manufacturing lasers for military and police firearms, introduced the first mass-production green laser available for small arms.[21] This laser mounts to the underside of a handgun or long arm on the accessory rail. The green laser is supposed to be more visible than the red laser in bright lighting conditions because, for the same wattage, green light appears brighter than red light.

Eye-targeted lasers[edit]

A non-lethal laser weapon was developed by the U.S. Air Force to temporarily impair an adversary's ability to fire a weapon or to otherwise threaten enemy forces. This unit illuminates an opponent with harmless low-power laser light and can have the effect of dazzling or disorienting the subject or causing him to flee. Several types of dazzlers are now available, and some have been used in combat.

There remains the possibility of using lasers to blind, since this requires such lower power levels, and is easily achievable in a man-portable unit. However, most nations regard the deliberate permanent blinding of the enemy as forbidden by the rules of war (see Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons). Although several nations have developed blinding laser weapons, such as China's ZM-87, none of these are believed to have made it past the prototype stage.

In addition to the applications that crossover with military applications, a widely known law enforcement use of lasers is for lidar to measure the speed of vehicles.

Holographic weapon sight[edit]

A Holographic weapon sight uses a laser diode to illuminate a hologram of a reticle built into a flat glass optical window of the sight. The user looks through the optical window and sees a cross hair reticle image superimposed at a distance on the field of view.[22]

Medical[edit]

See also: Laser medicine

Industrial and commercial[edit]

Lasers used for visual effects during a musical performance. (A laser light show.)
Levelling of ceramic tiles floor with a laser device

Industrial laser applications can be divided into two categories depending on the power of the laser: material processing and micro-material processing.

In material processing, lasers with average optical power above 1 kilowatt are used mainly for industrial materials processing applications. Beyond this power threshold there are thermal issues related to the optics that separate these lasers from their lower-power counterparts.[23] Laser systems in the 50-300W range are used primarily for pumping, plastic welding and soldering applications. Lasers above 300W are used in brazing, thin metal welding, and sheet metal cutting applications. The required brightness (as measured in by the beam parameter product) is higher for cutting applications than for brazing and thin metal welding.[24] High power applications, such as hardening, cladding, and deep penetrating welding, require multiple kW of optical power, and are used in a broad range of industrial processes.

Micro material processing is a category that includes all laser material processing applications under 1 kilowatt.[25] The use of lasers in Micro Materials Processing has found broad application in the development and manufacturing of screens for smartphones, tablet computers, and LED TVs.[26]

A detailed list of industrial and commercial laser applications includes:

Entertainment and recreation[edit]

Surveying and ranging[edit]

In surveying and construction, the laser level is affixed to a tripod, leveled and then spun to illuminate a horizontal plane. The laser beam projector employs a rotating head with a mirror for sweeping the laser beam about a vertical axis. If the mirror is not self-leveling, it is provided with visually readable level vials and manually adjustable screws for orienting the projector. A staff carried by the operator is equipped with a movable sensor, which can detect the laser beam and gives a signal when the sensor is in line with the beam (usually an audible beep). The position of the sensor on the graduated staff allows comparison of elevations between different points on the terrain.

A tower-mounted laser level is used in combination with a sensor on a wheel tractor-scraper in the process of land laser leveling to bring land (for example, an agricultural field) to near-flatness with a slight grade for drainage. The laser line level was invented in 1996 by Steve J. Orosz, Jr.[1] This type of level does not require a heavy motor to create the illusion of a line from a dot, rather, it uses a lens to transform the dot into a line.

Images[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ W. Demtröder, Laser Spectroscopy, 3rd Ed. (Springer, 2009)
  2. ^ F. J. Duarte (Ed.), Tunable Laser Applications, 2nd Ed. (CRC, 2008) Chapter 2.
  3. ^ "F. J. Duarte (Ed.), Tunable Laser Applications, 2nd Ed. (CRC, 2009) Chapter 9". Opticsjournal.com. Retrieved 2011-09-25. 
  4. ^ F. J. Duarte (Ed.), Tunable Laser Applications, 2nd Ed. (CRC, 2009) Chapter 12.
  5. ^ ""Light Warfare"; by Matthew Swibel; 04.23.07;". Forbes.com. Retrieved 2011-09-25. 
  6. ^ Joint High Power Solid-State Laser, Northrop Grumman Corporation, 2012
  7. ^ Pae, Peter, "Northrop Advance Brings Era Of The Laser Gun Closer", Los Angeles Times, March 19, 2009., p. B2.
  8. ^ Northrop Grumman (2010-04-07). "Navy Shows Off Powerful New Laser Weapon.". Foxnews.com. Retrieved 2011-09-25. 
  9. ^ Emery, Daniel (2010-07-19). "BBC News - Anti-aircraft laser unveiled at Farnborough Airshow". Bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 2011-09-25. 
  10. ^ [1]
  11. ^ [2]
  12. ^ MLD Test Moves Navy a Step Closer to Lasers for Ship Self-Defense, official press release, 4/8/11.
  13. ^ Navy tests laser gun by zapping motorboat off California coast, LA Times, 4/11/11.
  14. ^ United States Air Force link News story on the PHaSR handheld rifle-style weapon. 2 November 2005.
  15. ^ http://www.ausairpower.net/APA-Rus-PLA-PD-SAM.html#mozTocId210606
  16. ^ Wired News article "Weapons Freeze, Microwave Enemies" (and copied in at least 661 other web pages including this link[dead link])
  17. ^ Boeing YAL-1 Airborne Laser (ABL) | Photos and Pictures
  18. ^ [3]
  19. ^ Martinez, Luis (2013-04-09). "Navy's New Laser Weapon Blasts Bad Guys From Air, Sea". Yahoo!. Retrieved 2013-04-09. 
  20. ^ "Thales GLOW". Thalesgroup.com. Retrieved 2011-09-25. 
  21. ^ Guns Holsters and Gear. "LaserMax Introduces the UniMax Green Laser for Firearms". Gunsholstersandgear.com. Retrieved 2011-09-25. 
  22. ^ Red Dot Sights / Reflex Sights & Holosights Explained -Electronic Sights; A look at why they exist, how they work, and how you use them.
  23. ^ "The Worldwide Market for Lasers - Market Review and Forecast 2012". Strategies Unlimited. 5th Edition: 56–85. January 2012. 
  24. ^ Sparkes, M.; Gross, M.; Celotto, S.; Zhang, T.; O'Neil, W (2008). "Practical and theoretical investigations into inert gas cutting of 304 stainless steel using a high brightness fiber laser". Journal of Laser Applications (1042-346X): 59–67. 
  25. ^ "The Worldwide Market for Lasers - Market Review and Forecast 2012". Strategies Unlimited. 5th Edition: 86–110. January 2012. 
  26. ^ "OLED technology explained". OLED Info. OLED-info.com. Retrieved 17 October 2012. 
  27. ^ "Cinetyp Hollywood - film subtitles, video subtitles, DVD subtitles, film overlay, video, film, overlay, foreign subtitles, closed captioning, open captioning, spotting lists". Cinetyp.com. Retrieved 2009-10-11. 

External links[edit]