Laser Smackdown: Amazing Laser Applications

Last week, I asked for nominations of the most amazing laser application, with the idea being that I will collect a list, write up the top vote-getters in a series of blog posts, and then we will have a vote to determine what is THE coolest laser application of ALL TIME!

At least, you know, as far as you can do that on a blog...

Nominations will remain open until next Monday, but I wanted to remind people, and give you a list of the top nominees thus far. These will be pretty hard to top, but there are still lots of laser applications that have not been mentioned, so be sure to get your vote in by Monday:

  • Cat toy/ dog toy/ laser light show
  • Laser cooling/ BEC
  • Measuring the Earth-Moon distance
  • Optical tweezers
  • Optical storage media (CD/DVD/Blu-Ray)
  • LIGO
  • Telecommunications
  • Holography
  • Laser ignited fusion
  • Laser eye surgery
  • Laser frequency comb/ spectroscopy

Those are in order roughly according to the number of times each was mentioned in the comments to last week's post. Cat toy/ Laser Floyd is winning by a safe margin, which probably says something about my readership.

If you've got your own favorite application, or would like to bump something else up the list, leave a suggestion in the comments.

More like this

In 1960, the first working laser was demonstrated, and promptly dubbed "a solution looking for a problem." In the ensuing fifty years, lasers have found lots of problems to solve, but there has been no consensus about which of the many amazing applications of lasers is the most amazing. Now, in…
A couple of weeks ago, I announced a contest to determine the Most Amazing Laser Application. What with one thing and another, this didn't get posted last week, but I don't intend to drop it completely, and will be finishing the series up in the next week or so. Here's the list of finalists, with…
A couple of weeks ago, I announced a contest to determine the Most Amazing Laser Application. After a follow-up post listing the likely candidates, we have a final list of candidate applications, an even dozen of them (after consolidating some related topics): Cat toy/ dog toy/ laser light show…
Several weeks ago, I announced a contest to determine the Most Amazing Laser Application. Personal issues interrupted this, but I want to finish it out in honor of LaserFest Here's the list of finalists, with links to those already written up: Cat toy/ dog toy/ laser light show Laser cooling/ BEC…

Pet toy or Laser Floyd might qualify for most entertaining applications, but most amazing? Plus, why combine pet toy with laser light shows?

No matter - add my vote to optical tweezers please.

Pulse Laser deposition. Still the best way to get really complex stoichiometries down on a surface. As I've said before, you could make a thin film of dog s**t with PLD.

By Bill Murray (not verified) on 01 Feb 2010 #permalink

Not just the earth-to-moon measurement, but the whole field of optical measurement, from the nanoscale to surveying and cartography.

I think it's related to measurement: laser microphones are also cool.

I was going to say the Jello laser too, but I suppose I agree that it's not really an application, unless eating your laser when you're finished with it is an application.

I also second the earth-to-moon retro-reflector experiment.

But for most pervasive application, wouldn't laser scanners have to be on the list?

I think the jello and whiskey are used as a medium to host rhodamine 6G or something, not that they lase themselves. Having checked the fluorescence of jello dye and Rhod. 6G in grad school, I'm pretty sure this is right. The jello was not very fluorescent, but the rhodamine was extremely bright.

Dearly as I love cat toys, I have to observe that laser surgery (including eye surgery) is well up the list on actual, concrete improvement of human lives.

By D. C. Sessions (not verified) on 01 Feb 2010 #permalink

Definitely Satellite Laser Ranging

or LIDAR - specifically its application in 3D mapping.

I'm certain it won't make it to the list, but "generating random numbers". See: A. Uchida et al, âFast physical random bit generation with chaotic semiconductor lasersâ, Nat. Photon. 2, 728 (2008); I. Reidler et al., Phys. Rev. Lett. 103 024102 (2009)

In my line of work, one would simple die for a good random generator :)

By johan couder (not verified) on 01 Feb 2010 #permalink

I'll have to vote for the laser eye surgery, too. There's nothing like staring into the business end of a 20 Watt Argon laser. :-)


1. Nobody has mentioned laser acceleration of particles. Last I heard there were reports of accelerating electrons to 1 GeV in a few cm. I find it mind boggling.
2. I vote AGAINST BEC. Not because it isn't cool but because a laser is not really the critical ingredient. (Its been done without lasers.) On the other hand, the observation of the Superfluid-Mott insulator transition does critically depend on a laser. That's just as cool as BEC, if a bit more esoteric.
3. Another cold atom application: Atom interferometric gyroscopes and gravimeters. The gyros beat all the competition - at least in some respects. The gravimeters will soon. The laser is essential here.
4. Come to think of it, even though it may go the way of the vacuum tube, the laser gyro is really cool, and its still the gyro of choice on fighter planes.
5. Every bit as cool as laser lunar ranging: LIDAR detection of atmospheric pollutants. You can sample the air 1 km above say, a coal plant, and map out the molecular composition.

By Dr. Decay (not verified) on 04 Feb 2010 #permalink