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TEXT 10A

Laser

In the "War of Worlds" written before the turn of the century H. Wells told a fantastic story of how Martians almost invaded our Earth. Their weapon was a mysterious "sword of heat". Today Wells' sword of heat has come to reality in the laser. The name stands for light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation.

Laser, one of the most sophisticated inventions of man, produces an intensive beam of light of a very pure single colour. It represents the fulfilment of one of the mankind's oldest dreams of technology to provide a light beam intensive enough to vaporize the hardest and most heat-resistant materials. It can indeed make lead run like water, or, when focused, it can vaporize any substance on earth. There is no material unamenable to laser treatment and by the end of 2000 laser will have become one of the main technological tools.

The applications of laser in industry and science are so many and so varied as to suggest magic. Scientists in many countries are working at a very interesting problem: combining the two big technological discoveries of the second half of the 20-th century - laser and thermonuclear reaction - to produce a practically limitless source of energy. Physicists of this country have developed large laser installations to conduct physical experiments in heating thermonuclear fuel with laser beams. There also exists an idea to use laser for solving the problem of controlled thermonuclear reaction. The laser beam must heat the fuel to the required temperature so quickly that the plasma does not have time to disintegrate. According to current estimates, the duration of the pulse has to be approximately a thousand-millionth of a second. The light capacity of this pulse would be dozens of times greater than the capacity of all the world's power plants. To meet such demands in practice scientists and engineers must work hard as it is clear that a lot of difficulties are to be encountered on route4.

The laser's most important potential may be its use in communications. The intensity of a laser can be rapidly changed to encode very complex signals. In principle, one laser beam, vibrating a billion times faster than ordinary radio waves, could carry the radio, TV and telephone messages of the world simultaneously. In just a fraction of a second, for example, one laser beam could transmit the entire text of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Besides, there are projects to use lasers for long distance communicat-ion and for transmission of energy to space stations, to the surface of the Moon or to planets in the solar system. Projects have also been suggested to place lasers aboard Earth satellites nearer to the Sun in order to trans-form the solar radiation into laser beams, with this transformed energy subsequently transmitted to the Earth or to other space bodies. These projects have not yet been put into effect, because of the great technolo-gical difficulties to be overcome and therefore the great cost involved. But there is no doubt that in time these projects will be realized and the laser beam will begin operating in outer space as well.




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