A CDE Definition
A laser used in communications that represents data in a manner exactly the opposite of the normal laser. Instead of transmitting pulses of light, the laser is always on and turns off to form the pulses (the bits are non-light rather than light). The advantage of dark lasers is that their non-light pulses are more stable and become less distorted than light pulses as they travel through the optical fiber. See laser.
(Light Amplification by the Stimulated Emission of Radiation) A device that creates a uniform and coherent light that is very different from an ordinary light bulb. Many lasers deliver light in an almost-perfectly parallel beam (collimated) that is very pure, approaching a single wavelength. Laser light can be focused down to a tiny spot as small as a single wavelength.
Laser output can be continuous or pulsed and is used in myriad applications. Gas lasers are used to cut steel and perform delicate eye surgery, while solid state lasers create the ultra-high-speed, minuscule pulses traveling in optical fibers traversing the backbones of all major communications networks. Light traveling in an optical fiber is impervious to external interference, a constant problem with electrical pulses in copper wire. See optical fiber and saser.
How Does It Work?
A laser is an optical oscillator, which is made out of a solid, liquid or gas with mirrors at both ends. To make the laser work, the material is excited or "pumped," with light or electricity. The pumping excites the electrons in the atoms, causing them to jump to higher orbits, creating a "population inversion." A few of the electrons drop back to lower energy levels spontaneously, releasing a photon (quantum of light). The photons stimulate other excited electrons to emit more photons with the same energy and thus the same wavelength as the original. The light waves build in strength as they pass through the laser medium, and the mirrors at both ends keep reflecting the light back and forth creating a chain reaction and causing the laser to "lase."
In simple laser cavities, one mirror has a small transparent area that lets the laser beam out. In semiconductor lasers, both mirrors often transmit a beam, the second one being used for monitoring purposes.
Who Invented It?In 1957, the laser was conceived by Gordon Gould, a graduate student in physics at Columbia University. When Gould filed for patents in 1959, he found that Columbia professor Charles Townes and Arthur Schawlow of Bell Labs had already filed for them. The year before, AT&T had, in fact, demonstrated a working laser at Bell Labs. In 1977, after years of litigation, a court awarded Gould rights to the first of three patents and later to all of them. He finally reaped millions in royalties.
Developing the Laser
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