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Device that produces an intense beam of coherent light (light composed of waves having a constant difference in phase). Its name, an acronym derived from light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation, describes how its beam is produced. The first laser, constructed in 1960 by Theodore Maiman (born 1927) based on earlier work by Charles H. Townes, used a rod of ruby. Light of a suitable wavelength from a flashlight excited (seeexcitation) the ruby atoms to higher energy levels. The excited atoms decayed swiftly to slightly lower energies (through phonon reactions) and then fell more slowly to the ground state, emitting light at a specific wavelength. The light tended to bounce back and forth between the polished ends of the rod, stimulating further emission. The laser has found valuable applications in microsurgery, compact-disc players, communications, and holography, as well as for drilling holes in hard materials, alignment in tunnel drilling, long-distance measurement, and mapping fine details.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on laser, visit Britannica.com.