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Photos: Forty years of lasers at Coherent

John Ambroseo, CEO of the self-proclaimed worldwide leader in photonics, gives CNET News.com a behind-the-scenes look at lasers.

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Topic: Hardware
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1 of 12 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

Portable green laser for crime scene investigations

When people think of lasers, they may well picture James Bond strapped to a steel table about to get sliced in two. Flash forward a few decades. Lasers--"Laser" stands for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation--are inside DVD players and medical equipment but not used as weapons of murder or even mass destruction.

Santa Clara, Calif.-based Coherent (the name comes from the fact that photons in a laser are synchronized, forming a coherent beam of light) turns 40 this year. John Ambroseo, CEO of the self-proclaimed worldwide leader in photonics, gave CNET News.com a tour of the company's facilities. An interview will follow shortly, but in the meantime, here are some pictures from the tour (alas, there was nary a secret agent in sight).

This first photo shows the TracER Forensic System. This device is essentially a portable green laser that can be used during crime scene investigations to detect fingerprints, fiber strands and other material. Typically, investigators have to take materials back to the lab for testing. The TracER lets them scan a complete crime scene on the spot. The idea was concocted over a lunch meeting, Ambroseo said.

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Fingerprints are detected because of bioluminescence

The fingerprints are detected because of bioluminescence, said Ambroseo. The chemistry of the fingerprint or biological sample essentially emits weak light. Several police agencies have bought the device, which runs on standard notebook batteries. It has also been featured on the TV show "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation."

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"Optically pumped" lasers

Red, green and blue optically pumped lasers pointing to one another. Traditionally, to generate laser light in an industrial laser, argon gas is excited. Because the photons emitted from the excited atoms are identical in their phase and amplitude, a strong beam of light (rather than scattered luminescence) is generated.

Researchers at MIT came up with optically pumped semiconductor lasers, a way to amplify laser light with a semiconductor and a series of lenses. As a result, the cost and power consumption of lasers has declined, opening up the market. Coherent started getting into optically pumped semiconductor lasers in 2001 and now expects them to generate a significant part of the company's roughly $500 million in annual revenue.

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Red, green and blue lasers

The red (635 nanometer), green (532 nanometer) and blue (488 nanometer) lasers all have different wavelengths and thus get used for different tasks. The lasers in this class sell for between $2,495 and $11,995.

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699 Ring Dye laser

A 699 Ring Dye laser. It is used for spectroscopy, or the study of how atoms emit light. Semiconductor manufacturers require these tools to test their products. The ring laser can be tuned for wavelengths of 300 to 900 nanometers.

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Overhead view of a Ring Dye laser

An overhead view of the Ring Dye laser.

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Model 52 Ion laser

The Model 52 Ion laser. Debuted in 1968, it was the first laser to sell more than 10,000 units. It cost less than $10,000.

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Close-up of the Model 52

A close-up of the Model 52. The laser tube in this one was refurbished in the 1980s.

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Coherent commemorative T-shirts

What Silicon Valley institution would be complete without a collection of commemorative T-shirts? Coherent turned 40 this year. Though the company is older than most Silicon Valley tech businesses, the industry was already starting to grow. Hewlett-Packard and Shockley Semiconductor were already global figures.

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Trade magazine ads from the '60s

Ah, the '60s. The golden age of trade magazine advertising. The gentleman with the cigar, Wayne Melferd, still works at Coherent. He designs lasers but has since given up cigars.

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Clothing manufacturer uses lasers

A clothing manufacturer uses lasers from Coherent to cut fabric, burn holes into shirts or bleach a pattern into the fabric. The bleaching is accomplished by turning the power down. In Asia, kiosks now let consumers bleach a digital photograph onto their pants.

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Using lasers to replace conventional light sources in TVs

Coherent is looking at ways to use lasers to replace conventional light sources in rear-projection TVs or digital cinema systems. Lasers can provide a wider spectrum of colors. The color spectrum for standard light sources is on the left.

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