Matter & Energy

Matter is composed of atoms or groups of atoms called molecules. The arrangement of particles in a material depends on the physical state of the substance. In a solid, particles form a compact structure that resists flow. Particles in a liquid have more energy than those in a solid. They can flow past one another, but they remain close. Particles in a gas have the most energy. They move rapidly and are separated from one another by relatively large distances.

Sources of Light

C. Synchrotron Radiation

Not all light comes from atoms. In a synchrotron light source, electrons are accelerated by microwaves and kept in a circular orbit by large magnets. The whole machine, called a synchrotron, resembles a large artificial atom. The circulating electrons can be made to radiate very monochromatic light at a wide range of frequencies.

D. Lasers

A laser is a special kind of light source that produces very regular waves that permit the light to be very tightly focused. Laser is actually an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. Each radiating charge in a nonlaser light source produces a light wave that may be a little different from the waves produced by the other charges. Laser sources have atoms whose electrons radiate all in step, or synchronously. As a result, the electrons produce light that is polarized, monochromatic, and coherent, which means that its waves remain in step, with their peaks and troughs coinciding, over long distances.

This coherence is made possible by the phenomenon of stimulated emission. If an atom is immersed in a light wave with a frequency, polarization, and direction the same as light that the atom could emit, then the radiation already present stimulates the atom to emit more of the same, rather than emit a slightly different wave. So the existing light is amplified by the addition of one more photon from the atom. A luminescent light source can provide the initial amplification, and mirrors are used to continue the amplification.

Lasers have many applications in medicine, scientific research, military technology, and communications. They provide a very focused, powerful, and controllable energy source that can be used to perform delicate tasks. Laser light can be used to drill holes in diamonds and to make microelectronic components. The precision of lasers helps doctors perform surgery without damaging the surrounding tissue. Lasers are useful for space communications because laser light can carry a great deal of information and travel long distances without losing signal strength.