Laser Pointer

A laser pointer is a type of portable pen-shaped laser normally designed to be held by hand. Laser pointers are most commonly used to project a point of light that can highlight items of interest, for example during a presentation. Most laser pointers have low enough output beam power (less than or about one milliwatt) that they do not project a beam visible from the side in normal clear air, but their light is only visible as a point of light where the beam intersects a diffusely reflective surface. Some high-powered laser pointers emit a beam of light visible from the side in moderately to dimly lit conditions via Rayleigh scattering.

Most inexpensive laser pointers use a deep red laser diode near 670/650 nm wavelength. Slightly less expensive ones use a brown-orange 635 nm diode, making them more easily visible than their 670 nm counterparts due to the greater sensitivity of the human eye at 635 nm. Other colors are possible too, with the 532 nm green laser being the most common alternative. In the past few years, yellow-orange laser pointers, at 593.5 nm, have been made available. Recently (September 2005), handheld blue laser pointers at 473 nm have also become available.

The apparent brightness of a spot from a laser beam depends not only on the optical power of the laser and the reflectivity of the surface, but also on the color response of the human eye. For the same optical power, the green laser will seem brighter than other colors because the human eye is most sensitive in the green area of spectrum (for low light levels), with sensitivity decreasing as colors become redder or bluer.

The output power of a laser pointer is measured in milliwatts (mW). Typically in Europe/UK the legal requirement is that a laser pointer output not exceed 1 mW; in USA this output is limited to 5 mW for presentation lasers. Lasers with outputs over 5 mW need to be registered with the FDA in the USA.

Green laser pointers appeared on the market circa 2000, and are the most common type of DPSS lasers (also called DPSSFD, diode pumped solid state frequency-doubled). They are much more complicated than standard red laser pointers, since laser diodes are not commonly available in this wavelength range. The green light is generated in an indirect process, beginning with a high-power (typically 100-300 mW) infrared AlGaAs laser diode operating at 808 nm. The 808 nm light pumps a crystal of Neodymium-doped Vanadate (or Nd:YAG or less common Nd:YLF), which lases deeper in the infrared at 1064 nm. The vanadate crystal is coated on the diode side with a dielectric mirror that reflects at 1064 nm and transmits at 808 nm. The crystal is mounted on a copper block, acting as a heatsink; its 1064 nm output is fed into a crystal of potassium titanyl phosphate (KTP), mounted on a heatsink in the laser cavity resonator. The orientation of the crystals must be matched, as they are both anisotropic and the Nd:YVO4 outputs polarized light. This unit acts as a frequency doubler, and halves the wavelength to the desired 532 nm. The resonant cavity is terminated by a dielectric mirror that reflects at 1064 nm and transmits at 532 nm. An infrared filter behind the mirror removes IR radiation from the output beam, and the assembly ends in a collimator lens. The output power of most green laser pointers is on the order of 5 mW.

Nd:YVO4 is replacing Nd:YAG and Nd:YLF due to lower dependency on the exact parameters of the pump diode (therefore allowing for higher tolerances), wider absorption band, lower lasing threshold, higher slope efficiency, linear polarization of output light, and single mode output. For frequency doubling of higher power lasers, LBO is used instead of KTP. Newer lasers use a composite Nd:YVO4/KTP crystal instead of two discrete ones.

Some green lasers operate in pulse or quasi-continuous-wave (QCW) mode, to reduce cooling problems and prolong battery life.

Blue laser pointers, which became available circa 2006, have the same basic construction as green lasers. They most often lase at 473 nm, which is produced by frequency doubling of 946 nm laser radiation from a diode-pumped Nd:YAG or Nd:YVO4 crystal. In 2006 many factories began production of Blue Laser Diodes for mass storage devices such as Blu-ray entering the mass consumer market. This may result in massive drops in prices of Blue Laser Pointers as the diodes become available for the laser pointer market during 2007/8. For high output power BBO crystals are used as frequency doublers, for lower powers KTP is used.

Laser pointers are often used in school and business presentations and visual demonstrations as an eye-catching pointing device. Red laser pointers can be used in almost any indoor or low-light situation where pointing out details by hand may be inconvenient, such as in construction work or interior decorating. Green laser pointers can be used for similar purposes as well as outdoors in daylight or for longer distances.

In pointing applications such as these, natural hand tremor may cause unwanted jittery motion of the laser dot. Future laser pointers may solve this problem by stabilizing the laser beam from unwanted hand tremor.

Laser pointers can be used as toys for pets, especially for cats. Some offer a selection of designs for the laser beam to project (e.g. images of butterflies, mice, or flowers), to provide variety. Opinions are divided on the safety of laser pointers used in this way. Some consider laser pointers to be a healthier alternative to the more traditional string for cats because they reduce the risk of choking on the string. Others are concerned that the laser beam may damage pets' eyes.

Laser pointers do not function as laser sights, although they may appear to be similar to sighting lasers at first impression.

Green laser pointers can also be used for skygazing. On a moonless night, a green laser pointer beam can often be clearly seen, allowing someone to accurately point out individual stars to others nearby.

Laser pointers should never be directed into the eyes of a person or animal or into any moving vehicle in which the driver or pilot could be distracted. The output of laser pointers is generally limited to 1mW or 5mW in order to prevent accidental damage to the retina of human eyes. Usually, pen lasers are class 2 or class 3a lasers, which require extended viewing times to damage the retina severely. There is some debate about whether outputs of 5mW may damage eyes if viewed through spectacles or contact lenses.[citation needed] The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has determined that Class 3a lasers could cause injury to the eye if viewed directly for approximately 0.25 seconds, although it has cited evidence that exposure to visible lasers is "usually" limited by the blink reflex of the eye, which they have timed at just under 0.25 seconds.

In the late 1990s, the laser pointer became a fad amongst adolescents as an irritant to be pointed stealthily at a movie theater screen or even at a person's eyes. During late 2004 a man was arrested in USA under terrorist laws when he was identified as pointing a high power green laser pointer into the cockpit of an airplane. The USA recently made it a Federal offense, punishable by up to 5 years in prison, to point a laser at an aircraft. USA Lasers ACT 2005

Despite legislation limiting the output of laser pointers in some countries (such as the USA and Australia), higher-power devices are currently produced in other regions (especially China and Hong Kong), and are frequently imported by customers who purchase them directly via internet mail order. The legality of such transactions is not always clear; typically, the lasers are sold as research or OEM devices (which are not subject to the same power restrictions), with a disclaimer that they are not to be used as pointers. Despite the disclaimers, such lasers are frequently sold in packaging resembling that for laser pointers. Lasers of this type may not include safety features sometimes found on laser modules sold for research purposes.

As powerful handheld green lasers become more popular in today's market, it has become known that irresponsible use of higher powered green lasers can be disastrous. Experts say that a direct shot to the eye from a laser over 15 mW can permanently damage the eye within a fraction of a second. The risk becomes greater with more powerful lasers, which are readily available on the internet today.

If used to play with animals, lasers with power output less than 0.5 mW are recommended,[citation needed] although some animals will not respond to lasers with this low power level when used in bright sunlight or similar situations producing low contrast laser point images.

* The first item ever sold on eBay was a broken laser pointer sold by Pierre Omidyar (eBay founder) for US$14.00.Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, with no Front-Cover Texts, and with no Back-Cover Texts.
Virtual Magic is a human knowledge database blog. Text Based On Information From Wikipedia, Under The GNU Free Documentation License. Copyright (c) 2007 Virtual Magic. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.1 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".

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