DIY Lasers Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, October 7th at noon Pacific for the DIY Lasers Hack Chat with Les Wright!

It’s not too much of a reach to say that how we first experienced the magic of lasers sort of dates where we fall on the technology spectrum. For the youngest among us, lasers might have been something trivial, to be purchased for a couple of bucks at the convenience store. Move back a few decades and you might have had to harvest a laser from a CD player to do some experiments, or back further, perhaps you first saw a laser in high school physics class, with that warm, red-orange glow of a helium-neon tube.

But back things up only a few decades before that, and if you wanted to play with lasers, you had to build one yourself. It was a popular if niche hobby with a dedicated following of amateur physicists who scrounged around for the unlikely parts needed: ruby rods, quartz-glass tubes, and exotic dyes. Couple them together with high-voltage power supplies, vacuum pumps made from converted refrigerator compressors, and homemade optical benches, and if the stars aligned, these parts could be coaxed into producing a gloriously intense burst of light, which as often as not hooked its creator as a lifelong laser addict.

We’re not sure which camp Les Wright falls into, but from the content of his growing YouTube channel, we’d say he’s caught the laser bug. We recently took a look at his high-performance nitrogen laser, which he’s been having fun with as the basis for a tunable dye laser. Along the way he’s been necessarily mucking around with high-voltage power supplies, oscilloscopes, and the occasional robot or two.

Les will stop by the Hack Chat to talk about everything going on in his lab, with a focus on his laser experiments. Join us with your questions on DIY lasers, and stop by to pick up some tricks that might help you catch the laser bug too.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, October 4 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones baffle you as much as us, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

10 thoughts on “DIY Lasers Hack Chat

  1. “less snark oaths” are futile anyway. You simply end up replacing snark with either condescension or sarcasm. Anyway, the confusion is perfectly understandable – It’s not like the date is right there in the only image in the article for everyone to see.

    Oh crap. :D

  2. I remember making my first laser for a Science project in Junior High. (1962)

    Honeywell loaned me a ruby. Aluminum trioxide with one end polished to reflect 100% of the light and the other end polished to reflect 99.5% of the light. Honeywell also loaned me an assortment of housings with a highly reflective interior to mount the components in.

    A company in Boston loaned me two Xenon flash tubes that fit into one of the housings.

    I wired up two Sprague PQ-425 capacitors (I needed 4KV to power the laser.) I also wired up a 1KV capacitor to trigger the bigger capacitors.

    When done, I had a device that developed a coherent beam that lasted only a couple of milliseconds; You couldn’t see it. It looked like magic: You placed a blue balloon about a foot in front of the aperture and pushed the button. It looked like the noise from the capacitors popped the balloon. I could only pop blue or black balloons. Red balloons and other colors seemed to reflect the light instead of absorbing the heat.

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