The carbon dioxide laser (CO2) is a type of gas laser. In this device, the electrical current passes through a tube filled with gas, which in turn results in the production of a light beam. The two ends of the tube are mirrors, one of which is fully reflective and the other allows some light to pass through.
The gas mixture is generally comprised of carbon dioxide, nitrogen, hydrogen and helium. The light beam generated by the carbon dioxide laser is invisible to the naked eye and falls under the infrared light spectrum.
When the nitrogen molecules that are found in the gas mixture get excited by the electric current, they gain energy, kinetic energy.
The gas mixture uses nitrogen because the nitrogen molecules have the ability to remain in an excited state and are able to maintain power loads for long periods of time without discharging said energy in the form of photons or light.
These high energy vibrations of the nitrogen molecules stimulate the carbon dioxide molecules. At that moment the laser device achieves a condition called inverted population and the gas mixture enters a state where the laser system contains more molecules charged with kinetic energy than vice versa.
For the laser device to produce the beam of light, the charged nitrogen molecules have to change states and release their kinetic energy in the form of photons.
This occurs when the filled-with-kinetic-energy nitrogen molecules come in contact and collide with the “cold” helium molecules and this results in a production of light by the nitrogen molecules.
The light that is produced with the aforementioned method has much greater power than the conventional visible light because the tube that is filled with the gas mixture is surrounded by mirrors which reflect the light that passes through the tube multiple times.
The light reflections have the effect of strengthening the light “waves” that are produced by the nitrogen. The light keeps getting stronger and stronger as it travels back and forth in the tube and it comes out only when it is strong enough to penetrate the partially reflective mirror.
The beam of light that is produced by a carbon dioxide laser (CO2) is powerful enough to be able to cut and carve a wide range of materials including: fabric, paper, cardboard and wood.
The most powerful carbon dioxide lasers (CO2) are used for machining of steel and other metals.
Although the most powerful CO2 lasers emit light beams up to 1000 W, the ones that are commonly used for the cutting and engraving of most materials are usually between 25 – 100 W.
For comparison, the common laser pointers’ power doesn’t exceed a few mW. The light that is emitted belongs to the infrared spectrum which means that it has a very large wavelength of about 10.6 micrometers. It has a much greater wavelength than the visible light which is between 450 and 700 nanometers. When it comes to industrial laser use, the carbon dioxide (CO2) laser is the most powerful iteration of the laser machines.
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