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Laser Maze: Introduction to Lasers

The challenge is to direct a laser beam using mirrors and beam splitters to light up a target. Students will choose challenge cards that tell them which targets to light and the pieces they need. See how many of the 60 challenge cards one can solve!



What is a Laser?

A laser is a device that makes an intense beam of light of a single color. The word "laser" is an acronym that explains how a laser works: Light Amplification by the Stimulated Emission of Radiation = laser. 


Albert Einstein was the first person to have the idea of a device we would later call a laser, and for many years after his first idea, scientists worked hard to see if they could make it work. It was not until 1959 that the name laser was coined by Gordon Gould in a research paper. The first working laser was built in 1960 and used a ruby crystal. The ruby crystal laser was put together and operated by Theodore Maiman from Hughes Research Laboratories. There were so many people working on lasers at this time that there was a fight for the patent. The fight over the patent was not decided until 1987 when it was finally awarded to Gordon Gould. 

How Does a Laser Work?

A laser uses special materials such as crystals, gases, or molecules to make light that is only one color. Usually, these materials are excited by an extremely bright light bulb like the flash from your camera. This causes the laser to send out a wave of light of one color that travels in a straight line. These waves are much like the waves of a ripple in a pond, but they are light instead of water. The waves of light are measured by looking at the distance between two peaks called the wavelength. Each color of light makes a different sized wavelength. Red light has a longer wavelength than blue light. When a laser is working, every wave emitted from it is in sync with the others so that all the waves lineup -- this is called being in phase. When you shine a laser, the light does not easily spread out but instead, stays in a straight beam, and lasers can travel long distances without the light spreading out because all the wavelengths are traveling together in phase. 

Classes of Lasers and Laser Safety

Lasers come in all shapes and sizes, and they are used for all different kinds of purposes depending on their strength and color. Lasers are made to cut through rocks or metal and can help with delicate surgeries. Lasers are used for communication and for carrying TV and internet signals. It is very important that any time you are working with lasers you use caution and protect your eyes.  All lasers should have a label explaining what class of lasers they belong to so the people using them know the risks and safety precautions to take when operating them. 

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