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Question
Are there any good instructions for building a laser? I've seen multi page documents online and that makes them seem very complex. They sell laser pointers in the dollar store these days so I would assume the technology is well understood these days. I basically might like to build a low intensity laser that I can control the exact wavelength of. Maybe even create laser art with mirrors and  fog etc.

Answer
Building a laser IS very complex, you don't just slap together some random stuff.  The first lasers were very difficult to build.  Now that we understand lasers, we can mass-produce them, yes.  However, setting up the fabrication line is still a massive technological challenge.  Building a laser whose wavelength you can control is far more difficult than building one at a fixed frequency.  Lasers generally emit light at an exact resonant frequency of a material or object.  If you really want to tune the frequency of a laser you need to build a free-electron laser, which is basically a particle accelerator with some fancy magnets and laser end caps.  I used to work at Duke's facility with their free-electron laser...it's the size of a warehouse (typical size for such a device).  Otherwise, you're looking at maybe a Thorlabs product that will run you around $20,000.  No, what you're asking is actually really difficult to make, even if you have all the fanciest setups and a degree in applied physics.  If multi-page instructions seem to complex, perhaps you're looking at the wrong science project and should stick to something easy, like rockets? Just a suggestion.

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Dr. Stephen O. Nelson

Expertise

I can answer most basic physics questions, physics questions about science fiction and everyday observations of physics, etc. I'm also usually good for science fair advice (I'm the regional science fair director). I do not answer homework problems. I will occasionally point out where a homework solution went wrong, though. I'm usually good at explaining odd observations that seem counterintuitive, energy science, nuclear physics, nuclear astrophysics, and alternative theories of physics are my specialties.

Experience

I was a physics professor at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin, research in nuclear technology and nuclear astrophysics. My travelling science show saw over 20,000 students of all ages. I taught physics, nuclear chemistry, radiation safety, vacuum technology, and answer tons of questions as I tour schools encouraging students to consider careers in science. I moved on to a non-academic job with more research just recently.

Education/Credentials
Ph. D. from Duke University in physics, research in nuclear astrophysics reactions, gamma-ray astronomy technology, and advanced nuclear reactors.

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