Science Faction – Lasers


Science Faction – Lasers
Pew Pew!
They are perhaps Science Fiction’s most prominent telltale of our base desire for all things bright and colourful. Yet the presence of lasers in everyday society acts as a constant, bitter reminder of A) their limited application as Super Fun Time Space Weapons.

And B) our continuing immaturity.

Case in point: Laser Eye Surgery is a thing that exists at the moment. But it doesn’t gift you with heat vision.

So since nothing screams technological advancement like vibrant beams or electromagnetic radiation, it’s about time we investigated the myriad uses of Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.

What we want: Rayguns

Bullets are boring, mainly because you can’t see them. You squeeze a trigger, hear a pop and detritus rains down from a fresh crater in the far wall.

However Photoshop in a bright red particle beam, lancing deadly geometries through interstellar craft or alien marauders and you’ve got yourself some refined entertainment.

Proton Pack: Ghost Busters

Handheld Neutrino Wands rigged to backpacked particle accelerators, the Proton Packs unleash positively charged streams of undulating protons (best left un-crossed) which attract the negatively charged ectoplasm which ghosts tend to hang about in.

Constrictive, though not necessarily destructive to said Ghostly apparitions, these packs can lay waste to corporeal entities e.g. desks, chairs, Stay Puffed Marshmallow Men...

Super-Laser: Return of the Jedi

According to the novel ‘Death Star’ (Michael Reves, Steve Perry) this iconic, planet busting, mega death ray, was comprised of several intertwining exotic hypermatter beams, accelerated and amplified by enormous focusing magnetic lenses, which produced a singular, powerful and extremely green beam of hyperspace particles.

Alderaan knows what I’m talking about.

Capable of being recharged, retargeted and refocused for the destruction of capital ships, Star Wars most eminent beam weapon has become the standard bearer for lasers everywhere.

Admittedly, it is rare for other Sci-Fi to overpower their weapons to such a ridiculous extent. But it’s worth remembering, George Lucas isn’t exactly known for his subtlety...

Phasers: Star Trek

Gene Roddenberry’s catch-all future cannon, Phasers emit particle beams of interchangeable numbers, dimensions, intensity and, most importantly, colour (Red for Federation, Green for Klingons etc.)

Originally defined as a Photon Maser, Laser technology being a relative unknown at the time of writing, the definition was revised in subsequent series to Phased Energy Rectification, which emit beams of fictional sub atomic particles (aren’t they all, am I right folks...) known as rapid nadions.

As a viewer, the advantages of the phaser over traditional ballistic weaponry are the vivid pyrotechnics, inexplicable explosions (Space is a vacuum, mostly) and subsequent debris fields.

Basically, they were the main reason people watched Star Trek.

Well, after Worf of course.

What we got: Lasers

A device which discharges electromagnetic radiation via optical amplification on stimulated photon emissions, lasers are noted for their high degree of spatial and temporal cohesion and typically manifest as ‘pencil beams’.

Lasers are assuredly a reality in 2012 and have been for the last half century. Most reading this will likely own variants of their own. However, the primary/intended function would be to render DVDs and Video Games rather than vanquish your foes in luminous glory.

First constructed in 1960, the laser was originally derided as “a solution looking for a problem.” They are now ubiquitous in the fields of medicine, entertainment, law enforcement, science and consumer electronics.

Laser Cooling

An unusual application which has enjoyed recent success is the process of laser cooling. Targeted atoms are trapped in specifically arranged electric and magnetic fields, slowing them, robbing them of their motion and thus cooling them. As the atoms cool they form an irregular matter arrangement known as a Bose-Einstein condensate.

Laser Sight

Less a direct weapon, more a utility in both military and industry process, laser sighting typically consists of small yet visible lasers aligned precisely to a device’s point of impact. Due to the laser’s minimal divergence, it appears as a small dot even at long distance.

Diode Lasers

Not uncommonly used as a light switch in industry, a laser’s beam interacts with a receiver which in turn is triggered/deactivated once the beam is interrupted. As a laser can maintain its intensity over far greater distances than typical illumination, diode lasers can be used for product detection in automated production.

And finally, the payoff...

Laser Weaponry

Boeing’s YAL-1
Airborne Laser Testbed employed a megawatt-class COIL (chemical oxygen iodine laser) as a missile defence system. Mounted within a modified Boeing 747-400F, it was developed to destroy ballistics while in boot phase.

The YAL-1 was test fired at an airborne target back in 2007. Three years later, a high yield laser was deployed to intercept a test target and successfully destroyed a duo of test missiles in 2010.

Predictably though, as we can’t have nice things, the programs funding was cut later that year and it was cancelled outright in December 2011.

Disappointment aside, rest comfortably in the knowledge that the first and only laser to be used in a battlefield scenario was named, brace yourselves,

“The ZEUS Laser ordinance Neutralisation System!”


A solid-state laser employed by the US Military, it is used to detonate landmines and unexploded ordinance. Capable of engaging targets from 25 to 300 metres (provided they fall within line of sight) ZEUS can be fired 2000 times a day, has eliminated more than 1,600 ordinance items of 40 different variants with a 98% success rate.

It’s no Super-Laser, but it’ll certainly do!

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