3. August 2015
The laser has long been a favorite of science fiction writers, movie directors, and audiences alike. The technology was first developed in the 1960s, and since then, it’s been studied in some of the most advanced laboratories and research facilities across the world. While lasers might seem like an object of the future (or a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away), technical advancements have found new ways to introduce these devices into the commercial market.
Today, physicists work with lasers powerful enough to split atoms, but through the use of advanced laser glasses and components, scientists have been able to adapt these technologies to consumer needs. These high-tech glasses can withstand intense light pulses and high peak powers. Their uniformity, peak power output, scalability, and cost-effectiveness make laser glass the foundation of lasers now impacting our daily lives.
Here are just a few of the spaces where lasers are making an impact.
Manufacturing: Peening is the traditional method of hardening a metal by adding compressive strength, and therefore stripping it of weaknesses and tensile stress. Aircraft manufacturers employ laser shock peening to strengthen the wings and engines of commercial airplanes. This process increases the overall strength of the wing, and therefore boosts the lifespan of an airplane.
In order to laser shock peen the wing of a Boeing 747, for example, pieces of sheet metal are hit with a high-powered neodymium laser and simultaneously cooled with water. This process imparts stress and strength and prevents long-term fatigue, while also curving the wing. The laser shock peening process is also used on specific areas of jet engine turbines to prevent failure at high-stress points, adding thousands of hours to the engine’s lifespan.
Medicine: Radial keratotomy (RK) is a medical procedure that corrects nearsightedness with the use of laser pulses. While some lasers can harm the human eye, the lasers used in RK can cut the cornea without imparting collateral tissue damage. Broadband laser glass makes this possible by giving medical device engineers a simpler laser architecture able to produce very short pulses of light. These short pulses of light — in the 150 to 100 fs range — prevent harm to the eye.
Cosmetics: Tattoo removal is a common cosmetic procedure, but it can be excessively painful. In the tattoo removal process, different light wavelengths are required to break up the nanoscale metal particles present in different ink colors. But since most tattoo removal machines use only three wavelengths of light, it can take longer to remove the ink and make the process difficult and painful.
Broadband laser glass, however, is tunable across a wide wavelength spectrum and can adjust the power of the light in order to break up the different ink colors. Technicians can more precisely customize the power and wavelength needed to remove a tattoo using broadband laser glass, theoretically leading to a faster, less painful experience.
Making use of both active and passive laser glass
Active laser glasses make use of the wide-ranging compositional possibilities of glass, and by controlling those properties, manufacturers like SCHOTT develop glass suitable for high energy, high average power, or integrated optics uses. Passive laser components also contribute to the capabilities of windows, shields, polarizers, beam splitters, lenses, and mirrors inside other active laser systems. Both types of glasses are integral to high-power and ultra-short laser pulse applications, for laser range finding, and for medical applications, among others.
Advances in lasers and laser glasses have caught up to the world of science fiction. Today, lasers can strengthen airplane wings, assist in medical procedures, remove unwanted tattoos, and much more. And, laser glasses and components have evolved from pure research tools to a technology playing an increasingly vital role in many consumers’ lives as scientists transfer this technology from the lab to the real world.