world of lasers

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The Amazing World of Lasers Alexey Belyanin Department of Physics, TAMU: 

The Amazing World of Lasers Alexey Belyanin Department of Physics, TAMU Laser Definition and History Laser Radiation Laser System Active Medium and Pump Laser Cavity Laser Types and Applications

LASER = Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation: 

LASER = Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation Laser is a device which transforms energy from other forms into (coherent and highly directional) electromagnetic radiation. 1917 – A. Einstein postulates photons and stimulated emission 1954 – First microwave laser (MASER), Townes, Shawlow, Prokhorov 1960 – First optical laser (Maiman) 1964 – Nobel Prize in Physics: Townes, Prokhorov, Basov Chemical energy Electron beam Electric current Electromagnetic radiation …

Microwave ammonia laser: 

Microwave ammonia laser  = 24 GHz

Ruby laser: 

Ruby laser Cr+3 ions lightly doped in a corundum crystal matrix (0.05% by weight Cr2O3 versus Al2O3)  = 693 nm

Electromagnetic spectrum: 

Electromagnetic spectrum

Laser radiation: 

Laser radiation Monochromaticity Directionality Coherence




Directionality Radiation comes out of the laser in a certain direction, and spreads at a defined divergence angle () This angular spreading of a laser beam is very small compared to other sources of electromagnetic radiation, and described by a small divergence angle (of the order of milli-radians) Lamp: W = 100 W, at R = 2 m He-Ne Laser: W = 1 mW, r = 2 mm, R = r + R /2 = 2.1 mm, I = 8 mW/cm2


Coherence Laser radiation is composed of waves at the same wavelength, which start at the same time and keep their relative phase as they advance.


Interference Young Interference Experiment

Michelson Interferometer: 

Michelson Interferometer Nobel Prize in Physics 1907


For a completely coherent wave, defining its phase along particular surface at specific time, automatically determine its phase at all points in space at all time. Temporal Coherence is related to monochromaticity. Spatial Coherence is related to directionality and uniphase wavefronts. Coherence time tc ~ 1/, where  is linewidth of laser radiation Coherence Length (Lc) is the maximum path difference which still shows interference: Lc = ctc = c/ Typical laser linewidths: from MHz to many GHz Record values ~ kHz

Laser System: 

Laser System Active (gain) medium that can amplify light that passes through it Energy pump source to create a population inversion in the gain medium Two mirrors that form a resonator cavity

Amplifier vs. Generator: 

Amplifier vs. Generator No (or negative) feedback: Positive feedback:

Active medium: 

Active medium N1, N2, N3 … – populations of states 1,2,3, … Population inversion: N2 > N1 or N3 > N2 etc.

Thermodynamic equilibrium: 

Thermodynamic equilibrium N2/N1 = = exp(-(E2-E1)/kT) In optics E2 – E1 ~ 1 eV while at room temperature kT = 0.025 eV. Therefore, N2/N1 ~ 10-18

Three one-photon interactions between radiation and matter: 

Three one-photon interactions between radiation and matter Photon Absorption Absorption rate: d N2(t)/dt = K n(t) N1(t) n(t) - number of incoming photons per unit volume


2. Spontaneous emission of a photon d N2(t)/dt = - g21 N2(t) = - N2(t)/ t2 Solution: N2(t) = N2(0) exp(-g21t) = N2(0) exp(-t/ t2) Spontaneous decay rate: Spontaneous photons are emitted randomly and in all directions


3. Stimulated emission of a photon d N2(t)/dt = - K n(t) N2(t) Proportionality constant (K) for stimulated emission and (stimulated) absorption are identical. Stimulated photons have the same frequency and direction. Stimulated emission is a result of resonance response of the atom to a forcing signal!

Rate Equations: 

Rate Equations dN2(t)/dttot = dN2(t)/dtabsorp+ dN2(t)/dtStimul+ dN2(t)/dtSpontan = +Kn(t)[N1(t)-N2(t)]-g21N2(t) = - dN1(t)/dttot dn(t)/dt = -K [N1(t)-N2(t)] n(t) n(t) = n(0) exp[-K(N1-N2)t]; N2 > N1 is needed for amplification

Three-level laser scheme: 

Three-level laser scheme For population inversion, more than 50% of all atoms must be in state 2. Very tough requirement!

Four-level laser scheme: 

Four-level laser scheme Much lower pumping rate is needed

Helium-Neon laser: 

Helium-Neon laser

Laser Threshold: 

Laser Threshold Scattering and absorption losses at the end mirrors. Output radiation through the output coupler. Scattering and absorption losses in the active medium, and at the side walls. Diffraction losses because of the finite size of the laser components. At threshold the gain should be equal to losses Sources of losses:

Gain spectrum can be very broad: 

Gain spectrum can be very broad

Broadening of the gain spectrum: 

Broadening of the gain spectrum

Laser Cavity: 

Laser Cavity

Longitudinal modes in Fabry-Perot cavity: 

Longitudinal modes in Fabry-Perot cavity

Hole burning in the gain spectrum: 

Hole burning in the gain spectrum

Transverse modes: 

Transverse modes


How to make a laser operate in a single basic transverse mode?

Laser Types: 

Laser Types Lasers can be divided into groups according to different criteria: The state of matter of the active medium: solid, liquid, gas, or plasma. The spectral range of the laser wavelength: visible, Infra-Red (IR), etc. The excitation (pumping) method of the active medium: Optical pumping, electric pumping, etc. The characteristics of the radiation emitted from the laser. The number of energy levels which participate in the lasing process.

Classification by active medium: 

Classification by active medium Gas lasers (atoms, ions, molecules) Solid-state lasers Semiconductor lasers Diode lasers Unipolar (quantum cascade) lasers Dye lasers (liquid) X-ray lasers Free electron lasers


Gas Lasers   The laser active medium is a gas at a low pressure (A few milli-torr). The main reasons for using low pressure are: To enable an electric discharge in a long path, while the electrodes are at both ends of a long tube. To obtain narrow spectral width not expanded by collisions between atoms. The first gas laser was operated by T. H. Maiman in 1961, one year after the first laser (Ruby) was demonstrated. The first gas laser was a Helium-Neon laser, operating at a wavelength of 1152.27 [nm] (Near Infra-Red).

Pumping by electric discharge: 

Pumping by electric discharge

Argon ion laser: 

Argon ion laser High power, but low efficiency

CO2 Laser: 

CO2 Laser


Gas lasers exist in nature! Stellar atmospheres Planetary atmospheres Interstellar medium

Solid state lasers: 

Solid state lasers Nd ions in YAG crystal host

Inertial confinement for nuclear fusion : 

Inertial confinement for nuclear fusion

Laser Fusion: 

Laser Fusion


D + T ==> 4He + n + 17.6 [MeV]

Free electron lasers: 

Free electron lasers


Applications Industrial applications Medical (surgery, diagnostics) Military (weapons, blinders, target pointers,…) Daily (optical communications, optical storage, memory) Research …

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