The optical revolution in communication is taking place, literally, right now, within your home. Where only 200 years ago it once took weeks to transmit information in letters carried by foot, horse, or boat the new transit of information takes place at the speed of light using lasers propagating down shards of glass. This tremendous increase in the speed of information transfer takes place due to the merging of two sciences: optical physics and materials science - understanding the nature of how light works and the discovery and perfection of glass fiber optics. We will explore the developments in these two branches of science that have merged at this historical moment.

Today you will learn

  • Some properties of light beams:
  • The difference between a laser and a flashlight
  • Different colors of light have different wavelengths
  • Laser beams have a small but measurable divergence and focus to a finite diameter
  • How does a laser work?
  • How energy can be temporarily stored in a laser medium (the population inversion)
  • The difference between spontaneous and stimulated emission
  • How to use mirrors to provide "feedback"
  • How does a CD or DVD player work?
  • One method to increase the amount of information that can be put on a CD or DVD.
  • How to keep a light beam squeezed down to a small diameter
  • Refraction and total internal reflection of light
  • How does an optical fiber work?
  • How can we send information over optical fibers?
  • What is the best wavelength to send information over silica fiber?
  • How fast can a laser beam be turned on and off with state-of-the-art technology?
  • How will the next generation of networks squeeze even more information over each fiber?

Student Lecture Notes

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Laser Jello

Speaker Bios

Dr. Christopher A. Ebbers

Dr. Chris Ebbers received his undergraduate physics degree from Northwestern University and his doctorate from the University of California, Davis. A physicist in the NIF and Photon Science directorate at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Chris is currently the manager for the Mercury laser program.  Mercury is a high-energy diode-pumped solid-state laser designed to demonstrate the reliability and scalability of high power lasers for fusion energy research.

In addition, Dr. Ebbers is recognized as an expert in lasers and nonlinear frequency conversion and is the recipient of three R&D 100 awards for the technical development of innovative solid state laser components.  He is an adjunct faculty member at Las Positas College where he teaches courses on optical instrumentation and high power lasers. In addition he has been a mentor and advisor to several graduate students and can be reached at See the NIF Website for further information on Photon Science and Applications or the Mercury Laser system.

Joel Speth

Joel Speth is a laser electro-optical technician in the Laser Science Engineering Division at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. He received an A.S. degree in Laser Technology from San Jose City College in 1981.

Prior to joining LLNL, Mr. Speth was employed by Coherent Inc where he manufactured lasers. Later he joined LLNL working in laser research and development. He has worked on several projects including the Novette X-ray laser experiments, Laser Guide Star project, and various high average power lasers with medical and military applications.

Randy Moehnke

Randy Moehnke teaches Advanced Physics and Principles of Engineering at Merrill West High School in Tracy, California. He is the West High's Space & Engineering Academy Coordinator and Science Department Chair. He has a Master's in Science Education with a minor in Physics from Oregon State University, and has been a Physics Teacher for 16 years.