Friday, May 28, 2010

Happy Birthday Laser!

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the invention of the laser. In May 1960, Theodore Maiman built the first device to produce coherent light by the mechanism of "Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation" at Hughes Research Laboratories in Malibu, making the laser just slightly older than I am. A special website, called laserfest, is commemorating this landmark event. Eisberg and Resnick discuss lasers in Section 11.7 of their textbook Quantum Physics of Atoms, Molecules, Solids, Nuclei, and Particles (quoted from the first edition, 1974):
“In the solid state laser that operates with a ruby crystal, some Al atoms in the Al2O3 molecules are replaced by Cr atoms. These ‘impurity’ chromium atoms account for the laser action. […] The level of energy E1 is the ground state and the level of energy E3 is the unstable upper state with a short lifetime (≈10-8 sec), the energy difference E3-E1 corresponding to a wavelength of about 5500 Å. Level E2 is an intermediate excited state which is metastable, its lifetime against spontaneous decay being about 3 x 10-3 sec. If the chromium atoms are in thermal equilibrium, the population number of the states are such that [n3 is less than n2 is less than n1]. By pumping in radiation of wavelength 5500 Å, however, we stimulate absorption of incoming photons by Cr atoms in the ground state, thereby raising the population number of energy state E3 and depleting energy state E1 of occupants. Spontaneous emission, bringing atoms from state 3 to state 2, then enhances the occupancy of state 2, which is relatively long-lived. The result of this optical pumping is to decrease n1 and increase n2, such that n2 > n1 and population inversion exists. Now, when an atom does make a transition from state 2 to state 1, the emitted photon of wavelength 6943 Å will stimulate further transitions. Stimulated emission will dominate stimulated absorption (because n2 > n1) and the output of photons of wavelength 6943 Å is much enhanced. We obtain an intensified coherent monochromatic beam.”
Lasers are an important tool in biology and medicine. Russ Hobbie and I discuss their applications in Chapter 14 (Atoms and Light) the 4th edition of Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology. In Section 14.5 (The Diffusion Approximation to Photon Transport) we write
“A technique made possible by ultrashort light pulses from a laser is time-dependent diffusion. It allows determination of both μs and μa [the scattering and absorption attenuation coefficients]. A very short (150-ps) pulse of light strikes a small region on the surface of the tissue. A detector placed on the surface about 4 cm away records the multiply-scattered photons […] A related technique is to apply a continuous laser beam, the amplitude for which is modulated at various frequencies between 50 and 800 MHz. The Fourier transform of Eq. 14.29 gives the change in amplitude and phase of the detected signal. Their variation with frequency can also be used to determine μa and μs.”
We also mention lasers in Section 14.10 (Heating Tissue with Light).
“Sometimes tissue is irradiated in order to heat it; in other cases tissue heating is an undesired side effect of irradiation. In either case, we need to understand how the temperature changes result from the irradiation. Examples of intentional heating are hyperthermia (heating of tissue as a part of cancer therapy) or laser surgery (tissue ablation). Tissue is ablated when sufficient energy is deposited to vaporize the tissue.”
Russ and I give many references about lasers in medicine in our Resource Letter (Resource letter MP-2: Medical physics. American Journal of Physics, Volume 77, Pages 967-978, 2009):
F. Lasers and optics

Lasers have introduced many medical applications of light, from infrared to the visible spectrum to ultraviolet.

150. Lasers in Medicine, edited by R. W. Waynant (CRC, Boca Raton, 2002). (I)

151. Laser-Tissue Interactions: Fundamentals and Applications, M. H. Niemz (Springer, Berlin, 2007). (I)

152. “Lasers in medicine,” Q. Peng, A. Juzeniene, J. Chen, L. O. Svaasand, T. Warloe, K.-E. Giercksky, and J. Moan, Rep. Prog. Phys. 71, Article 056701, 28 pages
(2008). (A)

A fascinating and fast-growing new technique to image biological tissue is optical coherence tomography “OCT". It uses reflections like ultrasound but detects the reflected rays using interferometry.

153. Optical Coherence Tomography, M. E. Brezinski (Elsevier, Amsterdam, 2006). Overview of the physics of OCT and applications to cardiovascular medicine, musculoskeletal disease, and oncology. (I)

154. “Optical coherence tomography: Principles and applications,” A. F. Fercher, W. Drexler, C. K. Hitzenberger, and T. Lasser, Rep. Prog. Phys. 66, 239–303 (2003). (I)

With infrared light, scattering dominates over absorption. In this case, light diffuses through the tissue. Optical imaging in turbid media is difficult but not impossible.

155. “Recent advances in diffuse optical imaging,” A. P. Gibson, J. C. Hebden, and S. R. Arridge, Phys. Med. Biol. 50, R1–R43 (2005). (I)

156. “Pulse oximetry,” R. C. N. McMorrow and M. G. Mythen, Current Opinion in Critical Care 12, 269–271 (2006). The pulse oximeter measures the oxygenation of blood and is based on the diffusion of infrared light. (I)

One impetus for medical applications of light has been the development of new light sources, such as free-electron lasers and synchrotrons. In both cases, the light frequency is tunable over a wide range.

157. “Free-electron-laser-based biophysical and biomedical instrumentation,” G. S. Edwards, R. H. Austin, F. E. Carroll, M. L. Copeland, M. E. Couprie, W. E. Gabella, R. F. Haglund, B. A. Hooper, M. S. Hutson, E. D. Jansen, K. M. Joos, D. P. Kiehart, I. Lindau, J. Miao, H. S. Pratisto, J. H. Shen, Y. Tokutake, A. F. G. van der Meer, and A. Xie, Rev. Sci. Instrum. 74, 3207–3245 (2003). (I)

158. “Medical applications of synchrotron radiation,” P. Suortti and W. Thomlinson, Phys. Med. Biol. 48, R1– R35 (2003). (I)

Finally, photodynamic therapy uses light-activated drugs to treat diseases.

159. “The physics, biophysics and technology of photodynamic therapy,” B. C. Wilson and M. S. Patterson, Phys. Med. Biol. 53, R61–R109 (2008). (A)
Happy birthday, laser!

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