You have just entered a portal to the wonderful world of lasers. The content that follows can get a little complicated. There will be some technical terms that I will have to use throughout the posts. I will definitely make the science easy to understand (if not, then get on my back and I will make things clearer). I will also try to add some kind of entertaining element to the posts to keep things interesting.

I highly encourage you to comment on my posts. Criticism is very welcome... just try to leave out the ad hominems.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

See you in the real world

Hey readers! 

I am sad to say that the semester is coming to an end and I will not be making any more posts on this blog.  I will leave it up for anyone to view and hopefully learn a thing or two about lasers.  Feel free to continue posting comments.  Your thoughts are useful for future readers.

I hope you enjoyed reading, and sometimes watching, my posts.  I know I enjoyed making them, and I learned a lot about blogging.  I also did quite a bit of research on lasers that I would not have done otherwise.  The experience had taught me a lot, and I hope it helped you to learn too.  Keep up your interest in lasers!  As always, stay safe!

Bidding you a fond farewell,
Benito El Jefe

Final Self Evaluation

Since the last evaluation, I have posted 17 posts with a variety of topics pertaining to lasers.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Bloggers Unite!

Hi everyone.

I read a post over at Nano Nook that deals with all sorts of cool topics at the nanoscale.  There is a post there that describes an atomic force microscope (AFM) that can be used to measure the surface topography and even chemical composition using an oscillating tip that is scanned across a material.  The technology uses a laser to accurately measure the oscillation phase (timing of oscillations) and amplitude (the distance of vibration) of the tip.  Take a look at Nano Nook's post for a nice diagram and more information!  Also check out his links that give even more detailed information if you are intrigued.

You've Heard of Laser Hair Removal...

Wait till you hear about this!

     Forensic analysts are currently using lasers to analyze hair samples at crime scenes or for drug testing.  Lasers are being used in these tests to burn the hair samples, which create hair fumes.  The fumes are sent into a mass spectrometer to determine which elements and isotopes are present in the hair.  This measurement can actually be used to extract information about the person from whom the hair originated (the hair donor).  Analysts can learn what the hair donor ate recently, and also what drugs the donor may have been using, since traces of drugs like the htc in marijuana can be detected in hair follicles for several months or even years after smoking.

     Lasers are being used to burn the hair samples, but a new method of laser hair analysis has been developed that can give even more information than the previous method.  An article at Physorg.com states that "traditional laser analysis techniques tended to obliterate entire samples as they burned all of its parts together as a whole."  This essentially eliminates the ability for analysts to determine exactly when the hair donor ate something or used a particular drug.  However, the article reports that a team of researchers have made some improvements to the technology:
"Moran and his team chose to use a less destructive type of laser that uses only ultraviolet light (similar to the kind used for LASIK eye corrective surgery). They discovered that by doing so they could essentially break apart the individual pieces and parts of the hair as a hole was bored, which could then be burned separately and tested with the spectrometer; sort of like burning the filings left over when drilling into a piece of wood with an iron bit. Because hair grows slowly over time, it creates a timeline of sorts, with different stages representing differing days, weeks or even months."
Holes can be bored down the length of the hair and the fumes from each hole analyzed separately.  Thus, timings of events can be determined accurately, whereas before the hair donor's history involved a lot of guesswork and estimations.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Morons with Laser Pointers

Remember when I told you about those two guys that went to jail for shining a laser at an airplane (see Fun and Games)?  Well they aren't the only morons out there!  I ran a search in Google for news containing the words "laser," "shining," and "arrested" to see how many people out there are getting in trouble with their laser pens.  I checked the entire list that Google spat out for the year of 2010.  I made a cumulative plot of incidents that related to idiots shining laser pointers at police, cars, helicopters, and airplanes.  By the way, some news articles did use terms like "moron" and "idiot!"  Anyway, take a gander at the figure:

There were 64 news reports that were relevant, which means that there was an average of one news report every 6 days.  Now that doesn't seem like a lot, but I was only looking at Google news reports that had particular phrases, and not all incidents make the news.  My calculations are smaller than the actual amount by a significant factor.  I found a more accurate plot from laserpointersafety.com (after all my work... should have gone there in the first place!).  These are just reported incidents though.  Take a look:

My calculations off of the figure suggest that there are, on average, 12 incidents per day for the year of 2010!  Here are some numbers that the FAA give:
  • 2010: 2,836 (7.8 incidents each night)
  • 2009: 1,527 (4.2 incidents each night)
  • 2008: 955 (2.6 incidents each night)
  • 2007: 643 (1.8 incidents each night)
  • 2006: 420 (1.2 incidents each night)
  • 2005: 311 (0.9 incidents each night).
There are obviously some disagreements with the plot and the numbers, but it is clear that the rate of incidents is increasing, and the yearly numbers are staggering.

These plots have shown us just how many morons with laser pointers are out there.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Bye Bye Sparks Plugs

Researchers have decided that spark plugs have got to go.  Spark plugs were invented in 1860 and have been in combustion engines and automobiles ever since.  That is a long time, and the technology really hasn't advanced since its start.

Lasers have been around since the 1950's, which is still a long time ago, but lasers have advanced a lot more than spark plugs have.  That is why researchers are now interested in replacing spark plugs with lasers to ignite fuel in combustion engines (source).  Previously, lasers were too fragile to withstand the harsh environment in the engine, but now lasers can be made out of tough ceramics.  These ceramics can survive in engines, and the lasers add some benefits over spark plugs:

Spark plugs use electrodes that corrode with every spark.  Lasers don't have this issue.  They just blast an intense laser beam into the combustion chamber and let the light do its work.

Spark plugs are positioned on the side of the combustion chamber, so the fuel is ignited unevenly which causes inefficiency and creates more pollutants.  Lasers can be sent straight through the center of the chamber to evenly ignite the fuel, bypassing those drawbacks from spark plugs.  Additionally, several lasers can be sent into the chamber to increase the uniformity of ignition.

Spark plugs can be ignited precisely within a few milliseconds, whereas lasers can be controlled down to the nanosecond.  This precision allows greater control over exactly when the fuel is ignited, which helps to increase efficiency.

Clearly, lasers are the hip new way to rotate your wheels.  Let's hope they work the wonders that I have stated here!

Wait. What?

I read an article at Techland that has me in disbelief.  I am a bit skeptical of what they are reporting, but I have no facts or evidence to say they can't do what they claim.  You need to take a look at the article and tell me if you believe the reporter.  Tell me if you think a laser could be made that produces more power in a single beam than all of the world is using at any moment.  I bet some of our friends in the electrical energy industry will say it can't be done.

I might be able to believe it if the beam is emitted in a very short pulse.  Remember, power is a rate.  Maybe that kind of power can be produced for an incredibly short period of time so that the total energy consumption is in the believable range.