Ten Things You Never Knew About Lasers


There are few scientific topics that excite the imagination as much as lasers. Lasers have long captivated children, adults, and even many pets with their almost mystical mechanisms. But lasers are actually highly technical types of technology, even if you can buy a cheap one at the convenience store. There are many applications to laser technology, and many things about lasers that most people don’t know.

1. The laser was first conceived by Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein is most known for his theory of relativity, but this isn’t all the work that he did. Because Albert Einstein was an untrained scientist, many of his theories took a while to gain traction in the conventional scientific community. Though Albert Einstein first developed the concept of lasers in 1917, there were no significant attempts to develop one until the 1950s.

2. LASER was originally an acronym

Though laser has become a word, it was originally an acronym when it was invented in 1959 by Gordon Gould. LASER stood for Light Amplification of Stimulated Emission of Radiation. It was meant to be used with other terms such xaser, uvaser, and raser, but none of these terms ever entered modern parlance. Originally the laser was called the “optical maser.”

3. There are many types of lasers

There are actually many laser types such as gas lasers, chemical lasers, solid-state lasers, excimer lasers, fibre lasers, photonic crystal lasers, semi-conductor lasers, dye lasers, free electron lasers, and bio lasers. Scientists are still working on different ways to create lasers, and all these lasers have different applications. Gas lasers are the weakest type of laser and the type of laser most of us are familiar with. Chemical lasers are powerful enough to be used in weapons.

4. Laser pointers are the weakest type of laser

CD-ROM drives and DVD-ROM drives have slightly stronger lasers inside of them. Lasers used for surgery are up to a hundred times more powerful than a laser pointer, and the lasers used for industrial use can be up to 3000 times more powerful than a laser pointer. The lasers that the government is attempting to militarize are projected to be many times stronger than even that.

5. Lasers have been extremely beneficial to medical science

They are now used for many delicate operations, such as eye surgeries, kidney stone removal, and even dentistry. Lasers can also be used for a variety of skin treatments, such as laser resurfacing to reduce wrinkles and irregular pigmentation, acne treatment, hair removal, and even tattoo removal. Additional uses for laser treatments are to remove small veins.

6. Lasers can be dangerous

Even though they aren’t very powerful, even consumer grade lasers can be hazardous. Any laser up to 5mW could potentially cause eye damage, and a 1Mw laser pointer can cause eye damage if the beam is stared directly into. Because consumer grade lasers can range in power, care should always be taken with an unknown laser.

7. Laser power was originally measured in Gillettes

It’s exactly what it sounds like. A laser with one Gillette of power could burn through a single Gillette razor. Understandably, this type of power measurement did not last long, in part because a laser that can burn through a razor is already quite powerful.

8. Lasers are becoming very common

The current generation will probably be most familiar with lasers due to their proliferation at night clubs and concerts. Lasers have become extremely common at music events and raves, and laser systems that cost in the millions are often used in areas such as Las Vegas. The types of lasers used in these systems are weak enough to be harmless, which is why they can only be seen in dark-lit areas.

9. Governments are developing laser weapons

The government is trying to create a weapon based on laser technology, and they report that this laser may be able to have power up to a hydrogen bomb. There’s no word on how far they have gotten into developing this laser, or what specific applications they would use it for. A laser with this type of power could potentially allow for very precise strikes from orbit.

10. Bill Gates developed a method to track and kill mosquitoes via laser

Malaria, caused by mosquitoes, was an issue that Bill Gates fought passionately about, even going so far as to release mosquitoes on a convention that he was speaking at. The laser that Bill Gates purposed would first find mosquitoes with a harmless laser, and then would send a fatal laser to kill it. This laser would avoid killing other insects, and even avoid male mosquitoes.


Though most lasers sold for consumer use are not dangerous, a lot of lasers are. They should be treated with the respect that all advanced technology is afforded, and they should never be allowed to contact any person, or animal’s, eye.

Photo via Flickr.

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Paul Tomaszewski is a science & tech writer as well as a programmer and entrepreneur. He is the founder and editor-in-chief of CosmoBC. He has a degree in computer science from John Abbott College, a bachelor's degree in technology from the Memorial University of Newfoundland, and completed some business and economics classes at Concordia University in Montreal. While in college he was the vice-president of the Astronomy Club. In his spare time he is an amateur astronomer and enjoys reading or watching science-fiction. You can follow him on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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