If you love tech and a little bit of science, you’re going to love this! Lasers in tech is a tribute to mankind’s ingenuity and creativity. The word laser is an acronym for ‘light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation.’
A laser is amplified light from an electromagnetic source. This was first invented about 60 years ago and since then the uses of lasers have continued to increase. It is likely, you already rely on many applications of lasers in your home.
In this article, we’re going to provoke your sense of awe towards the scientific and engineering community as you read about 9 surprising uses for lasers.
- Signals at the Speed of Light
Lasers for plastics are well known such as a green laser marker for bar codes because we see them all the time. However, there are other things we use in everyday life and have no idea they’re based on laser technology. For example, consider the use of fiber optics.
Fiber optics are a genius invention that depends in part on lasers. You can code information into laser light pulses that travel down the cable via very thin strands of plastic or glass. On the other end, they’re received by a sensor that decodes the pulses back into meaningful information.
You can think of it crudely as morse code but using light instead of sound. You can use this technology for data transmission, and in recent years to support internet cabling.
- Touching the Moon
Kids love playing with a laser pointer. You can use the mathematical properties of laser to focus and concentrate its beam. Would you believe that the same technology is used to send a laser beam to the moon to measure its distance from the earth?
How is that possible? On the moon, there are reflectors which receive the laser beam and then send it back to earth. The time taken for the reflection, using the known speed of light is used to calculate the distance traveled.
If you think you’re a crack shot with a gun then consider the amazing task of shooting to hit the moon. Even though the moon is about 1/4 the size of the earth, trying to hit it with a laser beam is like trying to hit a small coin about 3 kilometers away. These calculations have enabled scientists to make many other observations about the moon.
- Cartography—Maps (for Most of Us)
You may already be somewhat familiar with laser scanning. You can use lasers to scan and create 3-D images. This concept is extended to include the scanning of vast areas of the landscape.
That information is subsequently used to develop better maps. It is fascinating to know that this technology has been used to help map vast areas of the moon. It is amazing that a spacecraft, that is closer to the moon, uses this technology to compile more accurate data.
You can use Laser mapping to build up accurate 3D images of the map area. This is useful to NASA when planning future scientific explorations of the moon. For people like you and I, who will never go to the moon, 3D map imaging is an exciting way to explore the moon.
- Coolest Light in the Spectrum
This is an unexpected use of laser technology. We tend to think of heat as a by-product of light, so how can lasers be used to cool when we expect them to heat up? Remember that movement of atoms is also what produces heat.
The faster atoms move, the more heat produced. Photons (light particles) are directed into the path of atoms that then collide with them and cause the atom to slow down. This leads to a cooling effect.
The photon is emitted again, and the process is repeated. You can think of this as a little bit like bumper cars. This description won’t get you an A in your physics exam but it does simply convey a complex point.
- Fight Against Cancer
This is one of the examples of lasers for medical use. Think about the photosynthesis that occurs in plants. Amazingly, the plant absorbs light from the sun and takes in carbon dioxide and then produces oxygen.
A similar thing happens when using a photosensitizing drug. This drug has an agent that reacts to light and produces oxygen.
So cancer patients consume this drug and are then exposed to a laser that triggers oxygen production in a localized area. The oxygen destroys cancer cells.
Thanks to the ability to focus a laser, you can precisely control the penetration of light on the cancerous area, such as a tumor. In turn, the affected area receives the oxygen produced.
- Laser Scarecrow
The innovative uses of lasers seem to have no limit. You can use lasers to scare away unwanted birds just like the traditional scarecrow. However, instead of a funny-looking man, the device emits random intervals of red and green laser.
The birds don’t like this and so they prefer to land somewhere more friendly. The brilliant thing about this technology is that it is environmentally friendly and doesn’t harm the birds in any way. There is no need for poison and there is no sound.
So if you have pigeons making a mess on your home, before you reach for the shotgun or any other unpleasant solution, give some consideration to using the power of light!
- Nano Tool
Nanotechnology is an engineering marvel that draws on multiple fields of science and operates at an unimaginably tiny scale. How small is small? One nanometer is a billionth of a meter.
So you can get a sense of scale, a piece of paper is 100,000 nanometers thick. This field of developing technology is mind-boggling. An obvious question is, how do you work on such a small scale and what tools can you use?
You guessed it, laser technology has found another amazing application. You can use a laser to maneuver a single molecule and isolate individual atoms for further manipulation. Future developments with this technology are very exciting.
- Making Time Stand Still
OK, so no one can make time standstill. However, laser technology is being used to achieve high-speed photography. You can synchronize pulses of laser light with image capture so that when you look at the pictures it is as though time has stood still. If you’re a photography enthusiast you will appreciate how challenging it is to capture high-speed movements on film so to speak.
Now with laser technology photographers can capture moments that are so brief, we would never fully absorb them with the naked eye but when observed as a photo are incredibly beautiful.
An example of this is a water-filled balloon that is burst and digitally captured on film using laser technology. When the balloon bursts, the water holds the balloon shape, while at the same time forming droplets that sparkle like diamonds.
- Manipulate the Weather
The first thing to say here is that this is still in the experimental stage but holds exciting potential. How can a laser affect the weather? It is a complex electrochemical process that boils down to this basic point: laser can induce the formation of clouds.
What is so useful about clouds? The idea is similar to cloud seeding. If you can promote the formation of clouds, then water will condensate and eventually fall in the form of rain.
That means if you want a dry episode for some special event, you can stimulate the formation of clouds and rainfall increasing the likelihood of a dry spell afterward. Cloud seeding relies on the distribution of chemicals into the atmosphere but laser technology is a much cleaner alternative as it just uses light to drive the electrochemical changes that precede rainfall.
Uses for Lasers—What’s Next?
In this article, we have taken you through some innovative uses for lasers. As you have seen, this technology keeps on reinventing itself and developing new applications all the time. Who would have thought that you can manipulate light and it be so useful!
Understanding a little bit about laser technology is inspiring to the human spirit. Amazing things can be accomplished through the application of science and physics. Share one or two of these facts with your friends as they make for a great conversation.
Don’t let your thirst for knowledge stop there. You can read more fascinating articles that fit with your interests on our site.