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03 Nov, 2023, Company News

Applications and Development Trends of Laser

Applications and Development Trends of Laser

The Significance of Laser in Today's Society

The invention of the laser is a major technological breakthrough in the 20th century, comparable to atomic energy, semiconductors, and computers. Since its creation, lasers have rapidly advanced, and the introduction of laser light sources has revolutionized the history of artificial lighting. In China, laser technology has made significant progress, both in terms of quantity and quality, approaching international standards at that time. It is a rare occurrence in the history of modern scientific and technological development in China for an innovative technology to quickly achieve a leading position worldwide. The successful translation of theoretical concepts and technical solutions into practical laser devices is mainly attributed to the extensive capabilities and solid foundation of the Changchun Institute of Optics and Fine Mechanics in technical optics and precision machinery over the years. The development of a new technology is challenging to accomplish without sufficient technical support.


Current Applications of Laser

2.1 Applications of Laser in Natural Science Research

2.1.1 Nonlinear Optical Reactions

In well-known optical phenomena such as reflection, refraction, and absorption, the intensity of reflected and refracted light is directly proportional to the intensity of the incident light. These phenomena are referred to as linear optical effects. However, when the intensity is not only proportional to the incident light's intensity but also to its square, cube, or even higher powers, it is classified as nonlinear optical effects. These effects only manifest when the incident light is sufficiently strong.

Following the emergence of high-power lasers, researchers have observed nonlinear optical phenomena, including frequency conversion, Raman shift, self-focusing, and Brillouin scattering, in the interaction between lasers and matter.


2.1.2 Trapping Atoms with Lasers

Gaseous atoms and molecules are constantly in motion, colliding with each other at speeds close to 340 m/s. This makes it challenging to "capture" and manipulate them. In 1997, Chinese scientist Dr. Diwen Zhu and others from Stanford University pioneered the use of laser beams to cool atoms to very low temperatures. By reducing their velocity compared to normal thermal motion, they were able to effectively "capture" the atoms.

The specific method involved using six pairs of laser beams directed towards the same point in three perpendicular directions. These beams pushed the atoms towards the focal point, creating a small region with about 106 atoms at a temperature below 240. This significantly reduced the velocity of the atoms to levels as low as 10 m/s. A gravity-resistant optical-magnetic trap was later developed to capture the atoms after they fell from the controlled area within about 1 second.

This technology holds great potential in various fields such as spectroscopy, atomic clocks, and the study of quantum effects.

2.2 Laser Ranging and Laser Radar

By harnessing the high brightness and precise directionality of lasers, laser rangefinders, laser radars, and laser collimators have been developed. Laser ranging operates on a principle similar to that of sonic ranging.

Laser radar works on a similar principle as laser ranging but is designed for moving targets or targets in relative motion. Laser radar has played a crucial role in long-range missile tracking and laser-guided technologies, which were first used during the 1991 Gulf War. Laser-guided missiles typically have four laser receivers arranged in a cross shape (quadrant detectors) in their heads. If all four receivers receive the same amount of laser, the missile continues on its original path; if one receiver detects less laser, the missile automatically adjusts its course. Another type of laser guidance involves illuminating the target with a laser beam, and the missile detects the reflected laser using a receiver, guiding the missile to hit the target.

Laser collimators are used for various guiding purposes, such as assisting excavators in mine tunnels. They are also utilized in high-precision work, such as the installation of engine spindle systems.

2.3 Laser Applications in Industry

Laser processing is a key aspect of precision processing equipment and reflects a country's production and processing capabilities, equipment levels, and competitiveness. Currently, laser processing technology is widely utilized in a variety of metal and non-metal material processing applications.

The main types of industrial lasers include CO2 lasers, solid-state lasers, and semiconductor lasers. Each of these lasers offers distinct advantages. For instance, CO2 lasers are cost-effective, solid-state lasers provide good beam quality, and semiconductor lasers offer high output efficiency.

Fiber lasers represent the future of laser technology and possess numerous advantages over conventional solid-state lasers. However, machine tool companies that utilize lasers tend to exercise caution, and end users are more focused on the overall systems rather than the lasers themselves.

In modern heavy industries, such as material cutting, welding, and rapid prototyping, laser technology demonstrates its superiority. Laser trajectories can be precisely controlled using software. Additionally, laser processing is non-contact, ensuring excellent stability and a long lifespan.

In the semiconductor industry, optoelectronic technology has emerged as a leader, with laser processing playing an essential role. For instance, laser resistors can achieve a production capacity of 700,000 units per hour, and chip lithography has achieved a process size of 65nm.

2.4 Laser Applications in Medicine

Laser technology has a wide range of applications in the medical field. It interacts with organisms to produce various effects, including thermal effects, pressure effects, photochemical effects, and electromagnetic effects. Sometimes, these effects occur simultaneously.

Medical laser devices are defined as devices used for surgery, treatment, or medical diagnosis by irradiating the human body. They can be categorized into laser therapy devices, laser diagnostic instruments, and laser detection equipment.

Laser technology has rapidly developed in areas such as beauty treatments, tumor removal, eye surgery, myocardial vascular regeneration, and many others. China has emerged as the world's third-largest laser medical market, following the United States and Japan. Weak lasers have proven to stimulate, relieve pain, reduce inflammation, and dilate blood vessels in biological tissues. Irradiating lesions with weak lasers has therapeutic effects, and irradiating acupuncture points with weak lasers can produce effects similar to acupuncture. Low-intensity He-Ne lasers can be used for the treatment of ischemic diseases such as cerebral infarction, cervical spondylosis, and coronary heart disease through intravascular irradiation.

Research has shown that violet lasers have excellent therapeutic effects on soft tissue, challenging the conventional understanding that CO2 lasers are most suitable for treating such diseases.

2.5 Laser Communication

Laser communication makes use of the monochromaticity and good directionality of lasers. Depending on the transmission medium, laser communication can be categorized into space communication, atmospheric communication, underwater communication, and fiber optic communication.

Atmospheric communication is currently more prevalent in the military sector due to its excellent confidentiality, making it difficult to intercept and interfere with. Novalux has successfully conducted compatibility experiments for satellite laser communication systems, and the next phase of testing is scheduled for 2007. This system will provide improved communication capabilities for various users.

Civilian fiber optic communication offers high capacity and low cost. It is currently thriving and has become a vital field in the civilian sector.

2.6 Laser and Energy

Laser technology offers high brightness and unique advantages in energy utilization.

In the context of nuclear energy, laser technology is employed for applications such as laser isotope separation for fuel purification and laser nuclear fusion.

Energy has become a crucial issue in societal development. The ideal energy source should be clean and inexhaustible, and nuclear fusion energy fits this criteria. It is estimated that fusion resources in the Earth's oceans are sufficient for human use for 100 billion years, making it an energy source that is both inexhaustible and environmentally friendly. Controlled fusion reactions are considered the ideal source of nuclear energy and have garnered significant attention from scientists worldwide. However, practical energy generation through fusion has not been achieved yet. Currently, high-power lasers have reached the ignition conditions for fusion. Research from Russia has demonstrated that violet lasers have excellent therapeutic effects on soft tissues, challenging the conventional understanding that CO2 lasers are most suitable for treating such diseases.

2.5 Laser Communication

Laser communication primarily utilizes the focused and single-color properties of lasers. Depending on the transmission medium, laser communication can be categorized into space communication, atmospheric communication, underwater communication, and fiber optic communication.

Currently, atmospheric communication is widely used in the military sector. Atmospheric laser communication ensures strong confidentiality, making it difficult to intercept or interfere with. Novalux has successfully conducted compatibility experiments for satellite laser communication systems, and the next phase of testing is scheduled for 2007. This system will provide enhanced communication capabilities for various users.

Civilian fiber optic communication offers high capacity and cost-effectiveness. Presently, fiber optic communication is flourishing and has become a crucial civilian field.

2.6 Laser and Energy

Laser possesses high brightness and distinct advantages in energy utilization.

Laser applications related to nuclear energy currently include laser isotope separation for fuel purification and laser nuclear fusion.

Energy has emerged as a vital aspect of social development. The ideal energy source should be clean and inexhaustible, such as fusion energy. It is estimated that fusion resources in the Earth's oceans can sustain human use for 100 billion years, making it an energy source that is both unlimited and environmentally friendly. Controlled fusion reactions are, therefore, an ideal source of nuclear energy and have garnered significant attention from scientists worldwide. However, practical energy generation through fusion has not yet been achieved. Currently, high-power lasers have achieved the ignition conditions for fusion. Russian experiments have demonstrated that violet lasers have beneficial effects on soft tissues, challenging the conventional belief that CO2 lasers are most suitable for treating such ailments.

Laser transmission does not require a medium, making it a viable energy source for long-distance applications. According to reports, a research group in Japan has successfully used laser to drive robots. While robots are typically powered by batteries, it can be challenging to replace batteries for robots operating in nuclear power plants and heavily chemically polluted environments. Laser propulsion, on the other hand, is very convenient. Additionally, laser-driven robots are superior to battery-powered ones in space. Currently, Japan is making good progress in experimental research on laser propulsion technology, tracking, and controlling small vehicles.

Furthermore, lasers have many applications in various fields such as military, scientific research, culture, national defense, and public security investigation.


Trends in Laser Development

Since the invention of lasers over 30 years ago, lasers have been rapidly evolving, astonishing people with their ever-changing capabilities and attracting attention worldwide. Let's take a look at the future development trends of lasers and the laser industry.

3.1 Trends in Laser Devices
3.1.1 Increasing Power

Recently, the United States, France, Germany, and Japan have completed or are constructing petawatt-class devices (1 petawatt = 10^15 W). These high-power lasers operate in two modes: emitting long pulses of several hundred joules intermittently (each approximately 400 fs, where 1 fs = 10^15 s) or emitting short pulses of several tens of joules discontinuously (each approximately 20 fs).

Ultrashort femtosecond lasers can be used for laser fusion experiments and high-energy density physics research, and they also have great commercial potential. Femtosecond lasers used in fiber optic communication can expand communication bandwidth, and by 2010, the transmission rate of communication systems reached 5-10 Tbps.

3.1.2 Miniaturized and Integrated Lasers

Currently, the global solid-state laser market is thriving, and semiconductor lasers are growing rapidly. Diode-pumped solid-state lasers have become a new growth point. Research shows that pulsed power supply to laser diodes can significantly increase their peak power, which will effectively promote the use of laser diodes in material processing.

3.1.3 Array Lasers

The rapid development of optical communication has greatly promoted the emergence and further development of array lasers. Research shows that array lasers are highly suitable for all-optical interconnects, and the use of photonic crystal-coupled lasers significantly improves output efficiency.

3.1.4 New Band Lasers

In recent years, mid-to-far infrared lasers and extreme ultraviolet lasers have also made significant progress. There are now nearly a thousand working media that can generate laser wavelengths ranging from vacuum ultraviolet to far infrared, with an increasingly wide spectral range.

3.1.5 High Efficiency

The output efficiency of lasers is increasing. The slope efficiency of new YAG lasers is approximately 81% when the pumping power exceeds 20 W.

3.2 Global Trends in the Laser Industry

The global laser market can be divided into three major regions: the United States (including North America), Europe, Japan, and the Pacific region. Due to the rapid development of semiconductor lasers, the market share of diode-pumped solid-state laser industrial processing equipment is increasing. In 2002, the global industrial laser system output value was approximately 2.99 billion US dollars, in 2003 it was approximately 3.111 billion US dollars, and in 2004 it was approximately 3.211 billion US dollars. In 2006, the sales of lasers used for material processing reached 1.7 billion US dollars. In the world laser market, Japan is a leader in optoelectronic technology, accounting for approximately 50% of the market share.

By tracking the development of the global laser industry, several trends can be observed: 1) In terms of laser sources, semiconductor lasers and diode-pumped solid-state lasers will become the future mainstream; 2) The optimization of laser technology in terms of input-output ratio and technical foundation is becoming more apparent, and the technical content integrated into products and services is increasing; 3) Laser technology is combining with numerous emerging disciplines and becoming more closely integrated into people's daily lives; 4) Mergers and acquisitions are prevalent in the laser industry as companies strive to become industry giants.

3.3 The Current Situation and Main Issues of China's Laser Industry

China's laser industry has great development prospects and potential. In recent years, the Chinese laser market has shown a stable and rapid growth trend. In 1999 and 2005, the sales of laser products in the Chinese market were 1.413 billion and 4.775 billion RMB, respectively. While the industry is developing rapidly, we must also recognize that China's laser industry started late and has weak foundations, resulting in a large gap compared to leading countries in the world. For example, compared to advanced countries' laser processing systems, China's laser processing systems have a significant gap and only account for about 2% of global sales. This is mainly reflected in the scarcity of high-end laser processing systems, inadequate performance of mainstream lasers, and a significant gap in laser micromachining equipment.

Currently, the main problems include:

(1) Lack of core technologies

Many critical fundamental technologies have not been well resolved, and some technologies have even regressed. Currently, most of China's laser industry's core technologies come from imports, resulting in insufficient product competitiveness.

(2) Insufficient integration of industry and research

China's academic research in lasers is still at the forefront worldwide, but the industry lags far behind. Inadequate protection of intellectual property rights and patent achievements hinder the transformation of advanced laser technologies into industrial applications. Additionally, the academic community lacks openness, leading to low innovation efficiency due to concerns about technology leakage.

(3) Lack of innovation capability and poor supporting capability

The system's supporting capability is not high, and the innovation capability is insufficient, mostly relying on traditional structural types. The existing industry is mainly a comprehensive industry combining optics, mechanics, electronics, and computation, but the integration of domestic lasers with other industries is poor. The level of intelligence and automation is low, which increases the difficulty for users.

(4) From the perspective of technology management, a good evaluation system is lacking

There is a lack of national standards, and the evaluation system's "equivalent" conversion is inappropriate, being more superficial than practical. The existing evaluation system is a self-circulating one, resulting in inadequate quality supervision of laser products, which is not conducive to the development of the laser industry.

Conclusion

Laser technology is increasingly widely used in various fields worldwide. Understanding the current status of different laser industries and grasping the trends in laser development and the laser industry will help China be at the forefront of this new technology. Better serving the economy will provide greater development space for our country's economy.


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