Product Code: JLA_1_4_9

W. M. Steen

A brief review OF the development of civilization on this planet leads to a fairly strong correlation between our ability to apply new forms of energy and the growth of our quality of life. With the comparatively recent invention of the laser, optical energy has become available in a form and at intensities which can be applied. This article examines some of the differences between optical energy and other forms of industrial energy with a view to suggesting where future growth may occur and why our grand‐children may bask in a higher quality of life due to our efforts to apply this new form of energy. Some of the principle differences noted are: the current laser power densitities are amongst the highest available to industry today; that optical energy is amongst the easiest forms of energy to direct and shape; that this power can be delivered with very little signal noise, allowing a unique window into automation and “intelligent” processing; that the laser beam contains the properties of coherence and monochromaticity as yet unexplored by material processing engineers and that possibly the rapidly growing optical applications of laser, such as metrology, may soon reflect into material processing; that the very pure frequency of the laser beam and/or multi photon events may allow chemical processing which is unexpected thermo‐dynamically; and finally, that it is very likely that there is a wealth of applications so novel that we have not seen even the possibilities yet — which was certainly the story with steam, electricity and oil.

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