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How Continuous Beam, CO2-Based Lasers Became So Prevalent

The very first laser looked quite different than those that are most commonly used today. The inventor of the laser set up a rod made of pure ruby crystal to receive bursts of light emitted by a high-powered flash bulb. That arrangement was enough to provoke the gemstone into producing highly coherent pulses of high energy light. That 1960 discovery certainly attracted plenty of attention at the time, but it was a series of further refinements on the basic idea that finally made the laser into something truly practical and accessible.

Even many relatively small businesses today, for example, own and operate a CO2 laser engraver, and devices like these can deliver a great deal of value and functionality. A laser of this general kind, however, looks very different from those that first cropped up in labs after Theodore Maiman’s “eureka” moment in the Hughes Research Laboratory. Whereas all of the earliest imitations of Maiman’s work remained similar to their inspiration in producing only brief bursts of laser light, another breakthrough eventually allowed for the continuous emission of light that had been recognized as an important goal virtually since the beginning.

Instead of effectively funneling light through a carefully designed crystal, this newer class of laser revolved around the channeling of electrical current through a suitably enclosed charge of gas. Some of the first lasers of this new kind used common, widely available carbon dioxide for this purpose, and this type of gas-based laser has remained one of the most prevalent ever since.

One reason for this is that lasers from this family boast both impressive output and levels of efficiency that are difficult to beat with other designs. In fact, the most powerful continuous light lasers of all today still make use of CO2, instead of other gases or different approaches entirely. Likewise do the efficiency figures that such lasers boast regularly rank above all but those of a select few competitors.

As a result, CO2-based lasers can today be found everywhere from small businesses to large laboratories pursuing advanced research. Although the very first laser with its ruby rod and brief flashes of coherent light was certainly important, the development of lasers that make use of carbon dioxide instead should never be overlooked.