Saturday, 15 June 2013

Stimulated emission: laser cutting

As well as its countless applications in industrial manufacturing, laser cutting allows fabulously intricate cut-out designs in clothing due to its high precision. Laser is an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation, but now I'm going to try to translate that into something intelligible, involving a gain medium and an optical cavity.

The gain medium is pumped with energy from an electrical current. When atoms in the medium absorb the energy, their electrons become excited, and are promoted to higher energy levels. The electrons then de-excite, falling back down to lower energy levels to emit photons, which are the particles or packets of energy that make up light.
From Mini Physics
The optical cavity is basically a chamber with a mirror at each end. The photons of light reflect back and forth between them through the gain medium, stimulating electrons to de-excite to emit photons of the same wavelength and phase. When the light can't acquire any more energy by bouncing between the mirrors through the gain medium, the gain is saturated and the light is laser light.

Laser light is coherent - the waves are 'in phase', or the photons are in sync with each other - and monochromatic, as the waves are of one wavelength. It is also very directional, which means it's concentrated and doesn't really scatter. You can't see a laser beam going through the air unless there's smoke or a lot of dust for the laser to reflect off into your eye. A lot of films don't seem to care though...

If you see any clothes with some kind of really detailed cut-out pattern, it was probably achieved by lasers. Who said physics and fashion can't mix?


  1. That skirt is gorgeous!

    Emma x

    1. The material's pretty weird but I love its intricacy.

  2. I love this thoughtful explanation of laser cutting. Did you know there is a cafe in Tokyo with a rent-able laser cutter? I really want to try using one.


    1. Thank you for bringing this to my attention, that is so cool! Though I'm looking at an article about people tattooing themselves with laser cutting machines, which looks painful. I wonder if it scars permanently :/

  3. Such a great post, it's nice to read into how things are actually made! xx


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