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Power play: Choosing the right laser for the job

You’ve surely heard the old adage: When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. That’s the complete antithesis of the laser spectrum: with colours ranging all the way from infrared to xray, and materials ranging from gas to liquid, the options are manifold. All of which means that instead of trying your best to make a solution fit your challenge, lasers can be manipulated, adjusted and tweaked to do just what you want them to do.

Lasers sit in a complicated zone, somewhere between the immutable laws of physics, and the application of those laws to solve a problem – which is where we venture into the realm of engineering. Whereas physics is, as we’ve said, rigid, engineering allows for far more flexibility – and this is precisely where lasers come into play, because you can construct them according to which characteristics you wish to emphasise. Do you need more power, for example, or is a high speed fibre optic more in line with your requirements? Is size more important than energy?

To make the right choice, you need to look at the laser spectrum. Lasers comprise a number of different wavelengths which come about through the materials and structure used, and that wavelength determines the laser’s best use. You might choose a wavelength that’s shorter, so that you’re able to harness its high frequency – but that means that you compromise on safety. On the other hand, if you use a long wavelength, like an infrared laser, you’ll be able to use it for applications where a higher degree of safety is needed. The rule of thumb is this: the higher the frequency of the laser’s photon, the more energy it can carry, and the more dangerous it is.

There’s another factor in the mix, though: when choosing the colour and wavelength that’s best suited to your challenge, you also need to make sure that the laser’s detector is up to the job – if it’s not, you’ll find that accuracy may be affected.

Ultimately, then, finding the right laser means finding the sweet spot, where power, safety and detector come together to create a full system that answers all your needs.

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