You might have come across laser pointers while attending a seminar or conference, or perhaps used it to play with your cat or dog. In the sixty years since physicists demonstrated the first laboratory prototype of a laser in 1960, it has been put to use in numerous ways from barcode readers to systems for hair removal.

The technology behind laser devices is based on Einstein’s Theory of Stimulated Emission. This theory came a year after the discovery of general relativity. Einstein imagined a bunch of atoms bathed in light. He had earlier discovered that atoms sitting in their lowest energy state can absorb photons and jump to a higher energy state. Similarly, higher energy atoms can emit photons and fall back to lower energies.

After sufficient time passes, the system attains equilibrium. Based on this assumption, he developed an equation that can be used to calculate what the radiation from such a system would look like. Unfortunately, Einstein’s calculations differed from the laboratory results. It was obvious that a key piece of the whole puzzle was missing.

Einstein resolved this by guessing that photons like to march in step. This would mean that the presence of a bunch of photons going in the same direction will increase the probability of a high-energy atom emitting another photon in that direction. Einstein labelled this process stimulated emission. He was able to rectify the disparity between his calculations and the observations by including this in his equations.

A laser is a device to harness this phenomenon. It excites a bunch of atoms with light or electrical energy. The photons released as a result are channelled precisely in one direction. Lasers are used in delicate surgery or industrial processes that require precision.

Picture Credit : Google