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How Lasers Work

Types of Lasers

There are many different types of lasers. The laser medium can be a solid, gas, liquid or semiconductor. Lasers are commonly designated by the type of lasing material employed:

  • Solid-state lasers have lasing material distributed in a solid matrix (such as the ruby or neodymium:yttrium-aluminum garnet "Yag" lasers). The neodymium-Yag laser emits infrared light at 1,064 nanometers (nm). A nanometer is 1x10-9 meters.

  • Gas lasers (helium and helium-neon, HeNe, are the most common gas lasers) have a primary output of visible red light. CO2 lasers emit energy in the far-infrared, and are used for cutting hard materials.

  • Excimer lasers (the name is derived from the terms excited and dimers) use reactive gases, such as chlorine and fluorine, mixed with inert gases such as argon, krypton or xenon. When electrically stimulated, a pseudo molecule (dimer) is produced. When lased, the dimer produces light in the ultraviolet range.

  • Dye lasers use complex organic dyes, such as rhodamine 6G, in liquid solution or suspension as lasing media. They are tunable over a broad range of wavelengths.

  • Semiconductor lasers, sometimes called diode lasers, are not solid-state lasers. These electronic devices are generally very small and use low power. They may be built into larger arrays, such as the writing source in some laser printers or CD players.

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