Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation (LASER) is a narrow low divergence beam of high intensity energy. Since its discovery in 1958 it has quickly found its way out of the laboratory to the factory floor. Laser applications are widely used in various industries.
Lasers are widely used in manufacturing because they allow the fabrication of high quality structures. They avoid mechanical stress that normal drills and blade can cause and thus are used for high precision work. They are used for cutting, welding, bending and even drilling.
The communications industry makes use of laser applications for long distance transmission of optical data. Atmospheric remote sensing satellites use lasers as well. Laser projection displays, though very expensive, are far superior to ordinary projectors and are used in flight simulators. CD and DVD players use low power lasers.
Lasers are also used in geology and seismology and help increase our understanding of our planet.
There are many laser applications in the field of medicine. Lasers are now used for certain surgeries as they minimize the risk of bleeding and damage to surrounding tissues. Laser knives are used for surgeries in places that require a lot of precision such as the eye and the prostrate. LASIK has become very popular because of the ease with which it fixes the eye. Laser imaging and microscopy helps doctors arrive at more precise diagnoses.
The industry that uses the most laser applications is the military. Most of the applications in other industries originated as a by product of military experiments. Laser applications in the military are used for target designation and ranging. They are also used for optical communications. Lasers are used to intercept, track and destroy Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM). Laser guided missiles find their targets with deadly accuracy. Even fire arms have laser sights to guide the shooter. Field deployed lasers are used to destroy enemy artillery and mines. It is possible that lasers can also be used to blind enemy soldiers.
The most controversial application of lasers was Strategic Defense Initiative, better known as Star Wars, the United States program to destroy enemy ICBMs with well directed lasers from space. It was criticized as being unscientific.
Whatever their history has been, laser applications in industry are here to stay. With the depletion of our fossil fuels, scientists are working on using high powered lasers to generate electricity. This ‘clean’ source of energy might bring some respite to our planet.