Sunday, November 30, 2008

Laser is the acronym for light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation. It is a device that creates and amplifies electromagnetic radiation of a specific frequency through the process of stimulated emission. The radiation emitted by a laser consists of a coherent beam of photons, all in phase and having the same polarization. Lasers have many uses, such as cutting hard or delicate substances, reading data from compact disks and other storage devices, and establishing straight lines in geographical surveying.

The word light in the acronym is used in the broader sense, referring to electromagnetic radiation of any frequency, not just that in the visible spectrum. Hence there are infrared lasers, ultraviolet lasers, X-ray lasers, etc. The gain medium of a laser is a material of controlled purity, size, concentration, and shape, which amplifies the beam by the process of stimulated emission.

A laser emits a thin, intense beam of nearly monochromatic visible or infrared light that can travel long distances without diffusing. Most light beams consist of many waves traveling in roughly the same direction, but the phases and polarizations of each individual wave (or photon) are randomly distributed. In laser light, the waves are all precisely in step, or in phase, with each other, and have the same polarization. Such light is called coherent. All of the photons that make up a laser beam are in the same quantum state. Lasers produce coherent light through a process called stimulated emission.

laser contains a chamber in which atoms of a medium such as a synthetic ruby rod or a gas are excited, bringing their electrons into higher orbits with higher energy states. When one of these electrons jumps down to a lower energy state (which can happen spontaneously), it gives off its extra energy as a photon with a specific frequency. But this photon, upon encountering another atom with an excited electron, will stimulate that electron to jump down as well, emitting another photon with the same frequency as the first and in phase with it. This effect cascades through the chamber, constantly stimulating other atoms to emit yet more coherent photons.

Mirrors at both ends of the chamber cause the light to bounce back and forth in the chamber, sweeping across the entire medium. If a sufficient number of atoms in the medium are maintained by some external energy source in the higher energy state, a condition called population inversion, then emission is continuously stimulated, and a stream of coherent photons develops. One of the mirrors is partially transparent, allowing the laser beam to exit from that end of the chamber.