Frickin’ Laser Beams: 5 Awesome Real World Uses of Lasers

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Lasers are dope. Chances are you (and your cat) have some experience with low power, household laser pointers – but are you familiar with the wide variety of applications humanity has been using specialized (and more powerful) lasers for? Beyond torturing your cat or dog, lasers have been used as weapons, scientific instruments, and entertainment staples? While the thought of lasers might conjure images of Sci-Fi space battles, their actual applications extend well beyond silver screen fantasy. Let’s check out some of the wildest applications our friend the laser has in today’s world.

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1. Frickin’ Space Weapons

Short for light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation, lasers are a particularly special breed of light. With a potentially very small focal point, lasers allow for a potentially huge amount of energy to be concentrated in a very small area. Similar to a bullet, which focuses huge amounts energy across a relatively small area, the focal potential of a laser allows them to function as weapons. However, without the need for oxygen to propel a projectile via combustion lasers can function in a vacuum. Which, is probably why we have the phrase “never bring a gun to a space laser fight.”

Believe it or not, the Soviet Union had developed a prototype laser pistol to be used by Russian Cosmonauts as early as 1984. The device’s purpose was supposed to be relatively straight forward – point laser at another space man, burn a hole in his or her space suit, sit back and laugh as the vacuum of space does the actual murdering for you. Well, as history would have it, space fights never became a thing, and modern day Cosmonauts carry normal pistols, which are surprisingly employed to protect returning Cosmonaut’s from potentially dangerous animals on the ground.

LIGO

2. Frickin’ Gravity Detectors

In a complete 180 from space weapons, lasers have also been employed in the more peaceful area of advanced sciences. One such device, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, or LIGO for short, detects the ultra-subtle effects of gravity (both terrestrial and extraterrestrial).

LIGO works by detecting the effects gravitational waves on the path of a laser. These ultra teeny-tiny effects on the beam create a sort of signal that can be used to measure gravity itself. This device is particularly awesome given the almost in-observable nature of gravitational waves. While we can drop an object and watch it fall due to the effect of gravity, devices like LIGO can actually measure the waves that cause this interaction. Dope.

Boulder Neurosurgical & Spine Associates

3. Frickin’ Medical Lasers

Again, lasers have found applications that are beneficial to mankind in the field of medicine. The same energy and potential damaging effect can be harnessed in a safe manner in surgery. Spinal surgeons sometimes employ C02 lasers that reduce damage to surrounding tissues. As to where the primitive scalpel applies pressure to surrounding cells, Lasers don’t. In fact lasers have the lovely effect of cauterizing the incision it makes, reducing bleeding.

Hell, fiber optic cables allow surgeons to bend a laser beam to increase the dexterity of the device and allow for greater precision in surgery. To be fair, this is more or less a humanitarian application of laser space weapons. Instead of burning a hole in a person, in the hopes that it will die, these lasers burn holes in people to help speed their recovery and ultimately to improve their life. Try doing that with a gun!

Photo courtesy of General Steel

4. Frickin’ Industry

Lasers can destroy and help heal, but they also help us build as well! The industrial applications of lasers are varied, ranging from fabrication, CNC, and even maintenance of machinery. Lasers can quickly and efficiently cut metals into shape, create screwholes and other anchor points, and carve ornamental designs.

Laser engraving allows for quick decorative flourishes on the back of iPods and iPhones, while more powerful lasers can sheer through sheet metal like butter. Hell, lasers can even weld things together if that’s what you’re into! Oh, and on a more boring note, lasers facilitate bar coding system, so next time you’re stuck behind the guy who has 20 items in the express lane at the grocery store, thank your bro, the laser, for speeding up your wait!

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5. Frickin’ Stage Effects

If you’ve gone to any concert worth its metal, chances are lasers were center stage. Since the color of the beam itself is easy to control, it is possible to put together an epic light show. Automated mounts can control the direction and speed of a huge amount of individual laser beams, which can create some wildly awesome effects. Some might even say that lasers have revolutionized the way that humanity blows its mind.

Instead of describing it, I’ll just let you check out an example for yourself below – the action really gets started around 1:15 in.