How Lasers Actually Work

I’ve been digging lately, looking for the next thing to wow my photon brain…  there’s been some LED developments and some other manufacturing-based tech dev that has been cool, but when you see something that peaks your curiosity, you’ve often got to go way back to the starting line and stretch.

Here’s some mind stretch for the photonics world — How Lasers Actually Work:


This article is from one of my favorite blogs, Hackaday.  It’s in your face.

From Wikipedia --

From Wikipedia —

And that is a big-ass Carbon Dioxide laser lasing and igniting a target.  Boom.

You know what blows my mind about lasers?  It’s just light.

This plywood is being cut by light.

This metal pipe and stuff?  Light.

Allllll light.

This is also all light:


Some companies and websites to check out:

X-Laser, who makes pretty bad ass laser packages for our industry
Pangolin, they make some interesting laser control software/hardware
Showlasers, a Dallas company that does some pretty amazing stuff
Edmund Optics, just get on their catalog list, they have the coolest freaking optics catalogs
Schaum’s Guide to Optics, probably one of the best optics books I’ve read
Real Genius, with Val Kilmer, one of the best nerd movies of all time, about lasers

A Video Introduction to Nanophotonics

Have you ever heard of Nanophotonics?  It’s also called nano-optics — things like laser communication, optimizing solar cells and how much they can generate, near-field microscopy, surface-plasmon resonance microscopy (SPR), and lots of other very focused research (no pun intended, but ha haaa) into how light interacts when it’s squeezed into very, very tiny volumes.

Still not getting it?  Ok, from SPIE’s own journal on Nanophotonics, here’s a wide net on what the hell Nanophotonics covers:

  • Nanoparticles and nanoparticulate composite materials
  • Quantum dots and other low-dimensional nanostructures
  • Nanotubes, nanowires, and nanofibers
  • Nanowaveguides and nanoantennas
  • Sculptured thin films and nanostructured photonic crystals
  • Quantum optics and spintronics
  • Nanoscale optical electronics
  • Surface plasmons and nanoplasmonics
  • Ultrashort pulse propagation
  • Light-harvesting materials and devices
  • Nanophotonic detectors
  • Near-field optics
  • Optical manipulation techniques, spectroscopies, and scattering techniques
  • Molecular self-assembly, and other nanofabrication techniques
  • Nanobiophotonics
  • Nanophotonic concepts and systems that facilitate continued integration of various optical and/or electronic functions
  • Dynamically tunable, multifunctional, and/or active nanomaterials and metamaterials

Yeah, I looked up seven of them myself!


Regardless, it’s photonics and optics, and that is one of my favorite research locations!  Here’s Professor Kent Choquette at the University of Illinois at Champaign/Urbana talking nanophotonics to a group of students.  WARNING, NON-NERDS:  This is over an hour, and not for the feeble math minded!

Good Morning Inspiration – 100 Black Balloons vs. 1 Blu-Ray Laser

What is better than coherent light obliterating 100 very carefully placed balloons down a hallway complete with different angles and audio that is not related to sex?

This is something that I submit to THAT list:

Wanna make one of these lil’ experiments on your own?
Go get yourself a Blu-Ray laser, some black balloons, and do it!


Buon Venerdì! 

Feliz Viernes! 

Gëzuar e premte! 

Fericit Vineri! 




Two Kittens, One Laser


I think that it’s about time to take a second and laugh your butt off.  Yeah, it’s been a hard week, things haven’t gone how you wanted, and now Claudia Schiffer is too uninterested in you for anyone to care.

What to do?  Kittens and a laser.  Works every time.


Germany Developing Laser Armed Drones for Farming and Weed Killing


As unfunny as a subject this is, this is a really ironic story, too.  Right now, the scientists and researchers at the Leibniz University and a laser center in Hanover are currently working on an alternative to herbicides (and I assume pesticides?) that comes in a very strange form as they see it:  a drone equipped with a CO2 laser system.  I mean, this is no YAL-1 or anything, but still — using light to kill weeds!


This is an awesome idea, right?  A laser equipped drone, complete with some sort of artificial intelligence (AI) that allows it to distinguish good plants from bad species.  There is a lot of interest in this in Germany as well; in an article at DW:

Another possibility is drones, or small robotic planes that would fly over the fields. These could also fight weeds near protected waters, where herbicides are not allowed to be used. According to Marx, the German railway service has expressed interest in the project as well.

“30 percent of the railway tracks are in water protection areas where you can’t use herbicides anyway.”

Crazy.  So the Germans are working on a flying weed death machine that incorporates a limited-fire carbon dioxide laser and has intelligence on board that will allow it to distinguish between different types of pests or pest plant species and eliminate them using the on-board laser.  Trials for this machine are currently at least five years out, according to the article at DW.

Along with a host of other ethics and scare-tactic behaviors that will rival the anti-Obama ads on Facebook, there is a main issue here that people will whine over — and I mean such loud whining that it has the potential to change the physical properties of things, like a microwave oven:

If we let drones fly around, aren’t they going to float around and kill our children?!?!

Look — I know it, you know it, George W. Bush and Obama know it, and Fox News knows it:  Drones programmed for weed killing are not going to drive around with abandon slaughtering families and killing schoolchildren.  BUT:  like anything else, there will be accidents that are the cause of human error, and the religious Right will call the accidents “an act of God.”  However, does this happen every time a combine kills a cousin?  No.  But somehow the Devil will get inside of the machines, or perhaps even the machines developed their own intelligence and chose to slaughter innocent men, women, children, and other sentient beings.  It’s maddening what happens when people start slinging scare speak.

Let’s look on the This is AWESOME side of “robot weed wackers,” because frankly these types of technological advances are going to take place.  You will also notice that drones and lasers are going to be added to replace humans in a variety of different working environments; perhaps maybe the most expensive and dangerous gigs will see robots doing more of that work themselves, or assisted/controlled by a human handler.  I’m pretty sure that we’ll also see them first in very small, very specialized applications, and not out there replacing the teams of men and women who labor to do these jobs currently.  This is the one thing that we as humans will always fight no matter what —  we are afraid of anything that takes away a job from a human.  I think what we forget is that robotics and automation don’t take jobs away, they remove the need for a human being to do something menial and exhausting so that the human can go do something more important, like think of more things for which robotics can provide a solution!

Let’s look at just a few advantages of an imagined Laser Drone Weed Eliminator – a specific and unique application also performed by humans:

  • $$$ Savings on LABOR! 
    Sorry folks, it’s a fact of life.  Labor is expensive, increasingly and constantly, and is often the biggest expense that companies have to incur.  If a company that manufactures fixtures, for example, could double their profit by going completely automated in their manufacturing division, believe me that they would do it.  There will more than likely be the need for human tenders and maintenance workers for the robots, so we can presume that there will always be human tasks.
  • $$$ Savings on TIME
    Perhaps JUST as important as money, time is often money, and an automated drone-based device could do the same job every time, regardless of the kind of day the robot is having.  You could also work a robot a solid 24 hour day and never have to bill overtime.
  • Human Safety Factor
    There will be situations where a robot weed wacker will be the better worker for the task.  Case-in-point, clearing out old Juniper trees or weeding thick rose beds.  On a more extreme (and probably more realistic) scenario, think about something like weeding delicate flower beds or hydroponic setups where human interaction is the worst thing for the species.  These are all valid examples that exist in the industries today; both articles I found on this mention having the drone start in a small greenhouse environment or small farm.
  • Transition Time Between Workers
    As with any job, when one worker leaves a job and another takes his or her place, there is a considerable amount of time that will need to be spent bringing the new worker “to speed,” per se.  With a robot worker, presumably we could replace one for another, transfer some logic, and off we go for another 20 hour shift at that worker’s maximum efficiency potential.

We must remember as well that as our population grows and the urgency for agriculture to keep up with demand, pesticides and herbicides will need to decrease in usage altogether.  This is yet another complicated problem that will take years of research and development to really make happen.  But, we’re taking the right steps.  Baby steps.  I’m sure that the politicians will stick their fat fingers into the Laser Weed Wacker pie as well, which will be even mire fun to write about!


The laser’s operation, from an article at Gizmag:

The LZH [meaning Laser Zentrum Hannover, or the University’s laser center] method is to stunt or kill the weeds in place using a laser. This isn’t a completely new approach. Scientists have been experimenting with weed-killing lasers for years, but early attempts revolved around using lasers to cut weed stems or to boil the weeds in their own juices. This wasn’t always effective and the laser needed a lot of power to get the job done. There was also the constant problem of how to tell the weeds from the crops so the right ones were zapped.

LZH took a different approach. The team, headed by Thomas Rath of the Institute of Biological Production Systems, used a low-powered CO2 laser to strategically heat the water in the weeds’ cells. Instead of slicing through the weeds or burning them, the LZH laser would only heat the weed cells enough to damage them and thus inhibit their growth. This is trickier than it sounds, because if too little power is used, it can turn the laser into a high-tech sunlamp that actually promotes weed growth. As Christian Marx, Research Fellow in the Department of Biosystems and Horticultural Engineering explains, “it has been shown that lasers operating with too little energy are more favorable to weed growth, causing the exact opposite of what we want.”

According to LZH, the team succeeded in locating the weeds’ growth centers and inhibiting them as well as adapting the method to different plants and plant heights. But the real hurdle was in finding a way to make the weed-killing laser practical by making sure it killed only the weeds and not the crops.

There you have it, folks.  A weed killer drone that kills plants with lasers.  A grand idea — let’s see where this one goes in the future!  I’m excited to see the progress!

Happy Thursday!

Happy Thursday, everybody!

Sorry for not posting yesterday, I have gotten a wicked case of Strep throat.  I’m glad I was able to finally find a Canadian clinic that would treat me after going to three (regardless of the fact that I have Canadian health insurance, how messed up is that?), and since I’m heading to Germany on Saturday for the ProLight+Sound 2012 Show in Frankfurt, there was no better time than the present.  One lady told me – and I’m not making this up – that the clinic could not treat me because “Americans love to sue, so we are unable to treat you.  It’s our policy.”

I’m sorry, but what the f*ck does that mean?!  Can you *really* refuse someone treatment in Canada for that kind of bullsh*t?  Where are all of the awesome Canadian strangers who aren’t douchebags, eh?  I need an honest Canadian hug!!!  Someone help me out, here!

ANY-WHO:  this is something LASER AND AWESOME for your Thursday morning!  Enjoy!

Yvette Mattern’s Global Rainbow

Alright, so Fox posted about this yesterday, but I had to know more.  I mean, this is Rick Hutton crazy laser sh*t here!  Remember this?

Alright, now check THIS out!

That, my friends, is Yvette Mattern’s installation, Global Rainbow, that is on display in the night time sky until March 4 in the UK.  Yvette took seven parallel laser beams, one of each color of our pal Roy (G. Biv of course), and blasted them across the sky.  The images are stunning.  You must see this exhibition, because it is freaking outstanding.

Check out some pics, courtesy of the BBC.  Also, check out a bunch more pics at Yvette’s Flickr, and then take a moment and read Yvette’s blog!  She’s all over the web!


Lasers. Kittens. Laser-Eyed Kittens. WIN.

From the Gothamist blog, SFist.  There is nothing quite like laser-eyed kittens on a Tuesday morning.

The National Ignition Facility (NIF), or “What Would We Do Without The Big Picture Blog?”

If you’re not reading Boston Globe”s The Big Picture blog, I have to say that you are depriving your mind of some pretty intense and without fail breathtaking imagery.  One pretty unbelievable example is this post from the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which is better known as the place on the planet with the most powerful laser.  The NIF has a system of 192 beams that are focused onto a 2mm-ish target, applying a megajoule onto that target.

Yeah.  That’s the energy of 10,000 100W lamps in one second.

I have four images of the 27 posted on the Big Picture Blog’s NIF post, which I implore you to visit.  I hope that someone reading the website will visit this post and get excited about the future of photon science, because that is what places like The Big Picture are all about – piquing interest.

I grabbed the captions for each image too – you must have the captions!

Ok, go.  No, RUN, over to The Big Picture Blog.

How It’s Made – Holograms

Laser crazed people, raise your hands!

<Jim raises both hands in the air, quite like that of a person who just has a lack of care>

Check out this How It’s Made of a laser hologram being captured, developed, and exposed.  VERY cool.  Now I cannot WAIT until my Wicked Lasers S3 Spyder Arctic comes in!  Come on, damnit, SHIP!  (At first it was 3-5 days, now they’re telling me 3-5 WEEKS.  It’s a shame they already charged the credit card…)