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    References on Laser Principles, Technology, Construction, Applications

    Note: The following are listed in no particular order and thus their position in this list does not represent any sort of rating - good or bad!

    1. The Laser Cookbook: 88 Practical Projects
      Gordon McComb
      TAB Books Inc, 1988
      Blue Ridge Summit, PA 17214

    2. Build your own Laser, Phaser, Ion Ray Gun & Other Working Space Age Projects
      Robert E. Iannini
      TAB Books, a division of McGraw Hill, 1983
      Blue Ridge Summit, PA 17214
      ISBN 0-8306-0604-1 paperback

    3. Build your own working Fiberoptic, Infrared, and Laser Space-Age Projects Robert E. Iannini
      TAB books, a division of McGraw-Hill, 1987
      Blue Ridge Summit, PA 17214
      ISBN 0-8306-2724-3

      This includes plans for a HeNe power supply as well as complete ruby/Nd-YAG and CO2 lasers and other interesting stuff.

    4. Scientific American, major articles and in particular, the monthly column, "The Amateur Scientist". The most relevant time period will be 1960 to 1980 but there has been more recent laser and related material. The most convenient source is [5], below.

    5. Light and its Uses, (readings from Scientific American) C. L. Strong's "The Amateur Scientist" with introductions by Jeral Walker.
      W. H. Freeman And Co., articles copyright 1952 to 1980
      ISBN 0-7167-1184-2, ISBN 0-7167-1185-0 (pbk)

      Extensive information on how to build lasers and how to use them, as well as info on building laser instruments (including several interferometers and spectrographs) and making holograms of various types (optical, microwave, acoustic). All of John Strong's (genius experimentalist) and Jeral Walker's columns on photonic devices are in this absolutely fabulous collection. See the section: Light and its Uses - Complete Table of Contents for a complete list of articles.

      The book describes the construction of several types of lasers by amateurs including HeNe, argon ion, dye, CO2, and nitrogen - all from scratch (e.g., the HeNe and argon lasers require glassworking to fabricate the plasma tube.) It is not for the absolute beginner but suitable for anyone who has some considerable hobbyist type experience with electronics and/or lasers.

      Note: To actually construct most of these projects requires a fair degree of skill and determination; access to some machining, glassworking, and/or high vacuum facilities; a source of electronic, optical, and mechanical components; and a stock of chemicals and other materials. However, much of this can be provided without the assets of a major R&D laboratory but will require improvisation. Nonetheless, the book makes for some very interesting and educational reading even if you are not going to be building anything. See the chapters starting with Amateur Laser Construction for more info on how to get started in home-built lasers.

    6. Some older issues of Popular Electronics and Radio Electronics have articles on how to use HeNe lasers and power supplies for them (maybe 1980 to 1989).

    7. Forrest Mims' Circuit Scrapbook II
      Forrest Mims
      Howard Sams & Co., 1987

      This book is out of print but available at some libraries. It provides various driver circuits and a miniature laser + driver + battery built into a very small package.

      Forrest Mims has also written a number of articles on how to use and build lasers. He is also an occasional contributor to the USENET newsgroups including those on the sci.electronics hierarchy.

    8. The Laser Book - A New Technology of Light
      Clifford L. Lawrence
      Prentice Hall Press, 1986
      A division of Simon and Schuster
      New York, NY 10023
      ISBN 0-13-523622-3

      This book includes descriptions of many common lasers, construction, and applications.

    9. Lasers and their Applications
      Kurt R. Stehling
      The World Publishing Company, 1966
      Cleveland and New York
      Library of Congress Catalog Number: 66-18464

    10. Introduction to Laser Physics
      Bela A. Lengyel
      John Wyley and Sons, Inc., 1966
      New York, London, Sydney
      Library of Congress Catalog Number: 65-27659

      If you always wanted to really understand terms like population inversion, hyperfine transitions, and quantum efficiency, this old but solid book is for you. Be prepared for some heavy math. However, it does include some practical aspects of laser construction as well.

    11. Introduction to Laser Physics
      K. Shimoda
      Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg New York London Paris Tokyo, 1986
      ISBN 3-387-16713-7 (2nd edition), ISBN 0-387-13430-1 (1st edition)

      More heavy math, less practical information than [10].

    12. The Fiberoptics and Laser Handbook
      Edward L. Safford, Jr.
      TAB books, a division of McGraw-Hill, 1984
      Blue Ridge Summit, PA 17214
      ISBN 0-8306-671-8, 0-8306-1671-3 (pbk.)

      Coverage of optical fibers, lenses, lasers, applications. A potpourri of topics, some rather sporadic but interesting nonetheless. Just take any circuits with a grain of silicon (if you look at Figure 7.2 you will know what I mean!).

    13. Understanding Lasers
      Jeff Hecht
      Howard W. Sams & Company, 1988
      ISBN 0-672-27274-1

      Includes basic laser theory, descriptions of various types of lasers, some applications.

    14. Lasers - The New Technology of Light
      Charlene W. Billings
      Facts on File, Inc., 1992
      460 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10016
      ISBN 0-8160-2630-0

      Introduction to lasers with emphasis on applications.

    15. Laser Experimenter's Handbook, 2nd Edition
      Delton T. Horn
      TAB books, a division of McGraw-Hill, 1988
      Blue Ridge Summit, PA 17214
      ISBN 0-8306-9115-4, 0-8306-3115-1 (pbk.)

      Much useful information but the only actual projects uses an IR laser diode to construct a simple communication link. And, their pathetic attempt at a laser diode driver circuit is amusing to say the least! (Hint: the design cannot possibly work as described.)

    16. Wedding Lasers to Power Supplies
      Photonics Spectra, June 1982

      This is a nice article on general power supply considerations for HeNe and (small sealed) CO2 lasers.

    17. The Electronic Bell Jaris a newsletter on high vacuum technology for amateurs which sometimes includes laser information. A vacuum system will be required if you are interested in constructing your own gas laser from scratch. Articles are archived at their web site

    18. Some of the earlier columns of "The Laser Experimenter" (1995) went into detail on how to make light shows, and how to construct the power supplies for the HeNe type of lasers.

    19. The March 1989 issue of Radio-Electronics magazine has plans for a HeNe power supply running on 12 VDC using a 555 timer chip and two transistors, a relay, and a 12 V to 280 V step-up transformer.

    20. The Blue Laser Diode - Gallium-Nitride based Light Emitters and Laser
      Shuji Nakamura and Gerhard Fasol
      Springer-Verlag, Spring 1997
      ISBN 3-540-61590-3

    21. Laser: Super Tool of the 1980s
      Jeff Hecht and Dick Teresi
      Ticknor and Fields, New Haven and New York, 1982
      ISBN 0-89919-08209

      Basic principles, types of lasers, applications.

    22. Lasers, Ray Guns, & Light Cannons: Projects from the Wizard's Workbench
      Gordon McComb
      McGraw-Hill, 1997
      300 Water Street, Whitby, Ontario
      ISBN 0-07-045035-8

    23. Lasers
      A. E. Siegmann

    24. Laser Physics
      Sargent, Scully, and Lamb

    25. Lasers: Tools of Modern Technology
      Ronald Brown
      Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1968
      Garden City, New York

    26. Lasers and Holography: An Introduction to Coherent Optics
      Winston K. Kock
      Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1969
      Garden City, New York

    27. ABCs of Lasers
      Allan Lytel
      Howard W. Sams & Company, 1966
      Indianapolis, Indiana 46206
      Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 65-24554

    28. Solid State Laser Engineering
      Walter Koechner
      ISBN 3-540-60237-2

    29. Various Literature on Flash Lamps
      EG&G Electro Optics
      35 Congress Street
      Salem, MA

    30. American Journal of Physics

    31. Review of Scientific Instruments

    32. Gas Laser Technology
      Sinclair and Bell
      ISBN 03-075385-6

    33. Laser Electronics
      Joseph T. Verdeyen

    34. The Holography Handbook
      Fred Unterseher, Jeannene Hansen, and Bob Schlesinger
      Ross Books
      ISBN 0-89496-016-4

    You may be able to find many of these items in a large public library. The old issues of magazines are often on microfilm or microfiche.

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    U.S. Patents

    A great deal of general information is publicly available in the form of U.S. (and foreign) patents. With the modern computer age, searching for any and all types of information is possible via a number of patent database web sites. Many of these charge for full access but some are still free.

    One very powerful patent search facility that is currently free is the IBM Patent Server Site. Patents may be located by number, subject, inventor, or boolean text, as well as more advanced criteria. All patents referenced by a particular patent as well as all patents which reference that patent may be instantly located. The complete patent documents including diagrams are available at this web site for download. Text prints and CDROM copies may also be ordered (for a small fee).

    The actual government run site, the US Patent and Trademark Office provides a flexible fast search engine but does not appear to include the complete patents (only the cover page and no graphics). However, hard-copies of the patents can be ordered on-line.

    Searching on the key word 'laser' will turn up too many patents to consider. However, narrowing this with 'semiconductor' or 'driver' will restrict the search enough to home in on patents of interest. There will still be many that are likely to be of interest - you can spend days (or longer) at this!

    Of course, it is also possible to search for patents the old fashioned way at your local large public library or by browsing the main patent office stacks in Washington, DC. However, these sorts of methods seam terribly archaic in comparison to the use of a modern patent database engine.

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    Newsgroups, Discussion Groups and Technical Forums, Listservers

    Laser Related Usenet Newsgroups

    Usenet newsgroups are public bulletin board-like forums for discussions of any sort of topic under the Sun (and beyond). There are over 20,000 active newsgroups in the USA alone and more are being created every microsecond. I know of two newsgroups most suitable for discussion of laser related topics: Generally, sci.optics is to be preferred as it attracts many serious and knowledgeable participants. However, occasionally, a question will appear only on alt.lasers. Note: As of this writing, there has been talk of discontinuing alt.lasers due to lack of traffic and excessive commercial and off-topic advertisements (SPAM).

    As with any type of discussion group, listen before you dive in. Get a feel for the types of questions that are typical and do not post a reply unless you are fairly confident of your answer! Basic questions are acceptable but it is proper etiquette to first attempt to locate the answer by checking past postings (by searching DejaNews.

    A FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) document also exists for sci.optics. The Sci.Optics FAQ may already have answered your question as well.

    Laser Discussion Groups and Technical Forums

    These are basically private newsgroups. They are accessible through a Web link rather than the normal Usenet protocol. In general, I do not see any really compelling reason to use this approach when appropriate Usenet newsgroups exist - as they do for laser science, technology, and applications with alt.lasers and sci.optics. For other laser light show discussion groups, check out the links in the section: Laser (Email) Listservers.

    The only laser (strictly engineering, not entertainment) discussion group I am currently aware of is hosted by EIO as part of their laser technical forum. They have several other technical forums as well including one on laser light shows and other areas of electronics:

    Currently the traffic on these is very low but they are worth checking from time-to-time.

    For (mostly) laser show related topics, there are several discussion groups hosted by LaserFX accessible via the LaserFX - Laser Forums Web Page. Their current non-commerical forums include:

    Of these, the first two are most likely to deal with laser technology, engineering, construction, and repair. As with the other technical forums, traffic is relatively low but worth checking and posting with serious questions since people who are knowledgeable are likely to monitor these discussion groups.

  • Photonics On-Line hosts a number of what they call 'Discussion Forums' (by now you should get the idea that all these are basically the same thing!). The traffic on the one for lasers is quite light (and postings seem to have been picked up from Usenet newsgroups as well):

  • Photonics On-Line Discussion Forums.
  • PPhotonics On-Line Laser Forum.

    For topics related to amateur laser construction and other amateur scientist activities, check out these Society for Amateur Scientist (SAS) Web sites:

    These include topics from Scientific American, the SAS, general research and experimentation, and a variety of other science related discussions. Laser specific traffic on this forum is quite small but the high chance of finding someone with similar interests balances this out to some extent!

    Laser (Email) Listservers

    Unlike Usenet newsgroups which are accessible via most on-line services and ISPs, listservers are email discussion groups which must be subscribed to usually by sending a special email message to the listserver host. Depending on the charter, these may be available to everyone but some are restricted.

    Once subscribed, all email sent to a specified address is distributed to all users of the listserver group. Thus, you can elect to participate in any or all discussions, or simply just monitor the traffic for your own interest or research. As with Usenet newsgroups, don't jump into a discussion without having an idea of the context - what has already transpired and then only if you have a valid question or can contribute in a knowledgeable way to the discussion.

    The following web sites have information on the charters and how to subscribe to some laser related listservers:

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    Laser and Optics Related Links

    The following have various information and links to other laser related sites. (Also see "Sam's Neat, Nifty, and Handy Bookmarks" for additional web sites.) They have been loosely grouped by the type of information provided but are otherwise only in somewhat more-or-less alphabetical order.

    Laser Safety Sites (May Also Include Other Laser Information)

    General Laser Information and Tutorial Sites

    Amateur Laser Construction Sites

    Amateur Laser Communications Sites

    High Power Laser and Laser Research Sites

    Laser and Optics Organizations

    Links to Many Laser Related Sites and Manufacturers

    Laser Related Publications

    Laser Show and Other Laser Entertainment Sites

    Holography Sites

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    Laser and Parts Sources

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    News, Surplus, Walk-In, Mail Order, Kits/Plans

    Suppliers for $5 Laser Diodes to $100,000 C02 Laser Welders

    A large number of companies sell lasers, laser components, and related optics to the hobbyist and experimenter. As with everything else these days, the trend is toward putting their catalogs on the Web, in some cases complete with photos of each item. There is a fairly wide range of prices so shopping around is recommended. At least, your mouse can often to the walking. The quality from places like Edmund Scientific is very high but you pay for it. For many purposes, much cheaper alternatives are available.

    Where actual manufacturer's model numbers are listed in the catalog or on the web page, it is a good idea to confirm that the specifications actually do match. Inaccuracies in catalog entries are very common (like a HeNe laser listed as 5 mW that turns out to be only .5 mW, oops). Similarly, it would be disappointing to say the least if you blew a visible laser diode because the driver board actually required a regulated input when the listing claimed otherwise :-(.

    Compare prices as well. There can be a wide variation in the price of the identical system or component among the various surplus houses or other suppliers. Haggling (at least with private individuals) may get you a better deal especially if you can identify lower prices elsewhere. More expensive items may be in better condition or newer, but not always - and it may not matter for your purposes.

    A commercial supplier should know how to pack and ship fragile merchandise to prevent damage. However, when ordering from a private individual or if you should need to send laser parts through the mail, or via UPS, Fed-X, Airborn, etc., packing should be done such that the box can withstand being drop-kicked from a 10 story building. Four inches of bubble wrap or styrofoam peanuts on all sides should be considered a minimum with adequate protection between items as well. Stickers marked 'Fragile' and 'Do Not Drop' may just make the package a more inviting target. :-)

    Then, when you receive your merchandise, make sure you actually were sold what was expected. Confirm that it behaves as advertised. I have received HeNe power supplies marked with reversed polarity, for example. Honest (or otherwise) mistakes in packing and labelling do occur. And, of course, DO NOT open the inner packaging or attempt to power an item that was shipped in error as getting a refund may be much more difficult if the seller can honestly claim you damaged something.

    Walk-In/Mail Order

    Mail Order - Lasers, Laser Parts, Optics, Accessories

    It is well worth asking for catalogs or browsing the on-line catalogs, and getting on the mailing lists of all of these companies as they offer a wide variety of neat, nifty, and often useful electronic, mechanical, and optical items often at excellent prices.

    Offerings include new, used, or surplus lasers and laser components. Quality and prices may vary quite widely - check them out before ordering!

    Mail Order - Electronics Surplus, Some Lasers - Varies from Month to Month

    These companies offer a wide and constantly changing variety of new and surplus electronic components, modules, subassemblies, and other weird, interesting, and sometimes useful stuff generally including some lasers, laser parts, kits, and other laser related items: Check out the on-line links to Silicon Valley Surplus Sources as well.

    Mail Order - Electronic Components

    For general electronic components, the following will fill your needs (these are just a sampling). Some of these companies do list a few laser diodes and other opto-electronic components: The following companies carry a wide selection of semiconductors (including many Japanese types) and in addition have replacement parts for microwave ovens (and other consumer electronic equipment) which may be useful for some laser power supply designs: Also see the extensive Electronic Mail Order List at the Sci.Electronics FAQ Web site.

    (From: Kim Clay (bkc@maco.net)).

    I live in West Palm Beach, Florida & there aren't any surplus or discount electronics places close but I have found some nice sources on the web. Like

    Electronic and Laser Project Parts, Plans, Specialized Components

    I have no direct experience with any of the vendors below, so I cannot really comment on either the quality of their customer service or on how their claims compare with reality! I have included general comments when available.

    High Quality New and Surplus

    (Also see the section: Some Laser and Optics Manufacturers and Suppliers for well known names like Coherent/Ealing and Melles Griot. Those listed here are more oriented to retail sales.)

    This also usually means high prices for many items (at least compared to what you might have expected) so you should be sitting down when you are browsing the catalogs or Web sites of these suppliers.

  • Back to Laser and Parts Sources Sub-Table of Contents.

    Internet Classifieds

    Private individuals often post offers of laser diodes and drivers, helium-neon laser tubes, power supplies, and complete lasers, optical and mechanical parts, and other items that are useful to the laser enthusiast. These will most likely be found on the following newsgroups: A search via DejaNews should turn up suitable recent postings.

    Some of the (as far as I know) current offers are listed below:

    Offers of inexpensive lasers, laser components, and other related items may also appear from time-to-time on various other discussion groups. See the sections: Laser (Email) Listservers and Laser Discussion Groups and Technical Forums. One that sees a fair amount of this type of traffic is: It allows both private and commercial postings for buy, sell, trade, wanted, employment opportunities, announcements, etc. This is where you might find your next BIG laser!

  • Back to Laser and Parts Sources Sub-Table of Contents.

    Comprehensive List of Laser Diodes and Suppliers

    If you are really serious about diode lasers - not just the common $15 laser pointer variety, check out ThorLabs and goto their Laser Search facility.

    This is a comprehensive database of laser diodes of all types, styles, and manufacturers. Searching without specifying any parameters will display the entire list - which is quite extensive. However, it is possible to narrow the search by manufacturer, power, wavelength, and other electrical, mechanical, and optical characteristics. Links then provide access to detailed laser diode specifications/datasheets.

    It is also possible to obtain a print copy of their complete catalog and/or "Thor's Guide to Laser Diodes" from their web site or by writing to Thorlabs at the address shown in the section: Some Laser and Optics Manufacturers and Suppliers.

  • Back to Laser and Parts Sources Sub-Table of Contents.

    Some Laser and Optics Manufacturers and Suppliers

    Also see the sections in: Laser and Optics Related Web Links for lists and directories of manufacturers of lasers, optics, systems, equipment, and components.

    For lack of a better place to put them, there are a few laser service and repair companies listed here as well.

    DISCLAIMER: Product and service descriptions and claims are from the company literature or Web sites. This listing is NOT necessarily an endorsement of what they offer!

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