LASERS, the past, the present, and the future

Laser lights, originally termed as an acronym for 'light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation' (quite a mouthful, no wonder it was shortened), has made its mark in almost every industry today. What started as an outgrowth of a suggestion made by Albert Einstein in 1916 that theorized the release of excess energy from atoms is now used widely in every industry imaginable. From the medical industry to the pedagogy industry, lasers are used everywhere.

The seemingly simple piece of technology took decades to be prototyped, and many theorized that it was impossible to build a laser. However, Theodore H. Maiman proved everyone wrong when he invented the first-ever laser in 1960. Although the laser itself served no purpose then it later went on to serve as the basis for many significant technological advancements. Technology like three-dimensional holograms, laser scanners for automated checkout in supermarkets, compact disc audio players, laser printers, and many more, exist because of the invention of lasers.

It wasn't long before lasers made their way into the medical field. Here they served as the basis for dangerous operations, like welding detached retinas back in place without cutting into the eye. Lasers used in medicine ensured precision and reduced the chance for error. It is this precision that has boosted the use of laser on architecture.

From laser pointers in lecture halls to being used in snipers, this simple piece of technology has conquered it all. More recently, lasers can write patterns on objects, remove unwanted hair, and bleach tattoos too! The invention of laser has been out of this world, quite literally. Laser rangefinders in space probes were used to profile the surfaces of Mars and the asteroid, Eros. In the laboratory, lasers have helped physicists to cool atoms to within a tiny fraction of a degree of absolute zero.

Lasers surround us at every stage of our lives. You can also find bright, neon laser lights flashing at your favorite concert. Technology has also advanced to the point of monitoring air pollution with lasers and using lasers to communicate. They are becoming the standard in the industry because of their monochromatic nature. Lasers keep up the pulse shape over long distances. Lasers can be used to remove tattoos too, while the process hurts, it's all worth it in the end. Lasers have not only made life easier, but they have also made life precious.

Now lasers can fingerprint diamonds, and just like a person’s fingerprints, they’re unique. This is called gem printing, and the technology was invented in 1976. The system records a diamond's unique optical fingerprint and disperses the beam and the light is reflected out of the stone. The dispersal pattern formed by the laser light coming out of the diamond is unique to that specific diamond. The imprint is an image of that dispersal pattern. The FBI, several governments, and insurance companies use gem printing to foil robberies or recover lost stones.

It's hard to realize that something that is sold for fifty rupees at small-time vendors on the street at beaches has such a varied use in day-to-day life. What started as a physics theory has now been used to make vinyl and scan items at the grocery store and potentially blind someone too. The next time you see a bar-code scanner or see flashing lights at a concert, think about how a physics theory led to some of the greatest inventions ever.

Author: Avishi Goel

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