A laser is a device that emits light through a process of optical amplification based on the stimulated emission of electromagnetic radiation. The term “laser” originated as an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. Lasers differ from other sources of light because they emit light coherently. Its spatial coherence allows a laser to be focused to a tight spot, and this enables applications like laser cutting and laser lithography. Its spatial coherence also keeps a laser beam collimated over long distances, and this enables laser pointers to work. Laser also have high temporal coherence which allows them to have a very narrowspectrum, i.e., they only emit a single color of light. Their temporal coherence also allows them to emit pulses of light that only last afemtosecond. Lasers have many important applications. They are used in common consumer devices such as DVD players, laser printers, and barcode scanners.
They are used in medicine for laser surgery and various skin treatments, and in industry for cutting and welding materials. They are used in military and law enforcement devices for marking targets and measuring range and speed. Laser lighting displays use laser light as an entertainment medium. Lasers also have many important applications in scientific research. Lasers are distinguished from other light sources by their coherence. Spatial coherence is typically expressed through the output being a narrow beam which is diffraction-limited, often a so-called “pencil beam.” Laser beams can be focused to very tiny spots, achieving a very high irradiance, or they can be launched into beams of very low divergence in order to concentrate their power at a large distance. Temporal (or longitudinal) coherence implies a polarized wave at a single frequency whose phase is correlated over a relatively large distance (the coherence length) along the beam.
A beam produced by a thermal or other incoherent light source has an instantaneous amplitude and phase which vary randomly with respect to time and position, and thus a very short coherence length. Most so-called “single wavelength” lasers actually produce radiation in several modes having slightly different frequencies (wavelengths), often not in a single polarization. And although temporal coherence implies monochromaticity, there are even lasers that emit a broad spectrum of light, or emit different wavelengths of light simultaneously. There are some lasers which are not single spatial mode and consequently their light beams diverge more than required by the diffraction limit. However all such devices are classified as “lasers” based on their method of producing that light: stimulated emission. Lasers are employed in applications where light of the required spatial or temporal coherence could not be produced using simpler technologies.