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Jessica McQuade

Word Count: 487

The Conception of the Laser Since its conception in 1957 and its construction in 1960, the laser has been fundamental to the progression of technology - they are now found nearly everywhere and their capabilities are being rendered in multiple fields of scientific research. Yet ironically, in their younger years, it was thought of as "a solution without a problem". LASERs (Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation) are an outgrowth of MASERs (Microwave Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation). The theoretical concepts behind masers were first conceived by Albert Einstein in 1917 and it was whilst investigating quantum processes such as spontaneous emission (of radiation when an electron in an excited atom falls back down to the ground state), that he first considered stimulated emission. With reference to gas, stimulated emission occurs when electrons are excited, for example by shining white light into the gas, causing the electrons to be raised from their ground states to excited states. As these electrons drop back to their ground state, many will become
Figure 1 trapped in a metastable state. If said white light is intense enough, the gas may contain more atoms in their metastable states than their ground states. When the electrons inevitably jump from their metastable state to their ground state they will emit a photon with an energy, hv. This emission of a photon is known as fluorescent or phosphorescent radiation. Consequently, by the principle of resonance when this photon passes another electron in a metastable state it can also stimulate it into emitting a photon. Both these photons share qualities such as the same frequency, direction, polarisation, phase and speed - which mean that it can be stated that the photons are coherent and can be considered as primary waves.

On the other hand, transitions from ground states to excited states can also be stimulated, causing the primary wave to be absorbed and therefore the gas must contain a higher proportion of electrons in metastable states than in the ground states. Under this condition, high intensity coherent radiation can be obtained. In order to make use of this radiation, the laser must be designed so that the waves can be used created by stimulated emission can be reused. This is done by using the same principles of the Fabry- Perot interferometer, but instead increasing the gap between the highly reflective mirrors (generally 20-60% reflectivity) and filling the space with the medium of choice, be it solid, liquid or gas. When stimulated emission occurs the primary wave will reflect form the mirrors at the end, or be lost if the radiation is emitted in a direction that will not meet the mirrors. Upon its

Jessica McQuade

Word Count: 487

reflection back from end to end it will stimulate emission of electrons it passes , should the proportion of electrons in the metastable state is high enough and cause a build -up of photons moving back and forth which is self-sustainable, producing the LASER light illustrated in Figure 1.

Sources Background Information on LASERs Development In Search of Schrdingers Cat, John Gribbin p134-5 http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/284158_townes.html New Scientist October 2011, 7 Impossible Inventions, Jeff Hecht, Helen Knight, Justin Mullins, Jim Giles, Dana Mackenzie and Peter Nowak The Basic Workings of a LASER In Search of Schrdingers Cat, John Gribbin p134-9 Fundamentals of Optics, Francis A. Jenkins and Harvey E. White www.iopscience.iop.org www.precisionphotonics.com/technology/EtalonAdvanced.pdf Image http://images.tutorvista.com/content/communication-systems/laser-operation-scheme.gif