Build your own LASER! (Nov, 1964)

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PS Builds a LASER …and so can you

The incredible ruby ray is the hottest scientific discovery of the decade, but practical uses are still scarce. Here’s your chance to join the search

-June, 1960: Dr. T.H. Maiman, of the Hughes Aircraft Co., reports the development of the first successful ruby laser.
—November, 1964: Popular Science publishes plans for the first do-it-yourself ruby laser.

By Ronald M. Benrey

IT MAY sound like science fiction— but it’s really science fact: You can build a working ruby laser. It could be the most challenging—and rewarding— home-workshop project that you have ever tackled.

A ruby laser is a source of coherent light. All of the light waves in the pencil-thin, bright-red ruby laser beam are in phase—or in step—with each other. This extraordinary property of the laser beam—shared by no other light source—has spurred a world-wide search for practical uses.

Ordinary light sources—a light bulb, for example—generate incoherent light; the light waves are out of phase with each other.

Drop a pebble into a still pond, and the waves ripple out smoothly in all directions. This represents a single light wave from a light source. All light sources produce more than a single wave, however.

They act as if you dropped a handful of pebbles at once: You get a jumbled clutter of waves one on top of another. This clutter of waves is analogous to incoherent light.

Suppose, though, you dropped your handful of pebbles one pebble at a time, each in exactly the same spot in the pond. The waves would continuously radiate from that point. All of the wave crests would be in phase. This is coherent radiation.

A ruby laser generates a coherent light beam by a similar process. Laser is an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. Inside the ruby laser rod—heart of the ruby laser—excited atoms are stimulated to emit light waves in phase with each other.

A coherent beam can be focused to a needle-sharp spot with a simple lens system, concentrating the beam’s energy into a tiny area. Focused laser beams have seared holes in wooden blocks; burned holes in diamonds; performed delicate eye surgery by “welding” damaged retinas.

The PS laser won’t duplicate the feats of strength of large, powerful professional models—but then, it costs only 1/50 as much. You can assemble the PS laser for a total cost of under $175.

What can it do? We’ve left that up to you. The PS laser is an open-end project: There is room for you to experiment, modify the basic design, and add your own ideas.

While developing the PS laser, we consulted Prof. Arthur Schawlow of Stanford University, coinventor (with Dr. C. H. Townes) of the maser—a microwave amplifier that led directly to the laser’s discovery.

Inside the PS laser there is:

• A cigarette-size ruby laser rod cut from a single crystal of man-made ruby. Both end faces are ground parallel to each other and polished optically flat. One end face is coated with a totally reflecting mirror surface; the other with a partially transparent mirror surface. The best mirror surfaces are the multiple-layer dielectric type made by vacuum-depositing a sequence of thin layers of transparent material on the end faces. Constructive interference of light waves inside the layers makes the mirror reflect red light, but pass other color light. The layers are very expensive to apply, and amateur-quality ruby rods are usually supplied with silvered mirror surfaces. (See Dr. Sehawlow’s explanation of the ruby laser on another page.)

• A powerful electronic photoflash unit, similar in light output to a studio-size photographic speedlight. Its circuit contains: a high-voltage power supply; a bank of four high-quality computer-grade electrolytic energy-storage capacitors; a trigger circuit; and one (or two) xenon flashtuhe(s) (straight-line flashtubes, not the familiar curlicue-shaped tube).

The flashtubes are wired across the capacitor bank, which is charged to 1,000 volts DC by the power supply. Pressing the “fire” pus

  1. MAKE: Blog says: May 21, 20061:20 pm

    Build your own laser – 1964…

    Modern Mechanix has a Popular Science from 1964 that has plans and a schematic for building your own laser – Link…….

  2. BlogCadre says: May 21, 20061:41 pm

    1964 Popular Science article building your own ruby laser…

    A 1964 Popular Science teaches you how to build your very own ruby laser:
    It may sound like science fiction–but it’s really science fact: You can build a working ruby laser.  It could be the most challenging — and rewarding — home-workshop pr…

  3. […] Original of this article is located at: http://blog.modernmecha…; where you can also find larger version of the pictures scanned from magazine Popular Science (11-1964) where this article was first published. « Ford Nucleon, alebo zabudnuta technologia…   […]

  4. r00tware » 1964: Build Your Own LASER! says: May 21, 20065:27 pm

    […] read more | digg story […]

  5. […] ModernMechanix looks back at Popular Science in 1964 – How to build your own laser […]

  6. […] Build your own laser – I didn’t keep track of the original MAKEzine posting on this one, but it shouldn’t be too hard to locate. This link takes you to a scan from a 1964 Popular Science article on how to build your own laser – frikkin’ sharks not included, I’m afraid. […]

  7. Ben says: July 11, 20066:01 am

    Anyone actually done this?

  8. Tech Industry » 1964: Build Your Own LASER! says: September 11, 20062:38 am

    […] An article from Popular Science Magazine 1964, Build Your Own Laser! “It may sound like science fiction â?? but itâ??s really science fact: You can build a working ruby laser. A ruby laser is a source of coherent light. All of the light waves in the pencil-thin, bright-red ruby laser beam are in phase or in step with each other.”read more | digg story […]

  9. Jimmy P says: November 28, 200612:00 pm

    To answer Ben’s comment #8 of July 7, 2006, yes I built the PS Ruby Laser in about 1967 for a high school science project and was able to go all the way to the state science fair with it. There was a mistake in the electrical schematic for one of the components and it fried it when I first used it. I found the problem and fixed it and then the laser worked fine. It popped ballons and burned holes in thin film when the beam was focused. 2 of my kids have used it for science projects as well and it still works with all the original components after all these years. Hope this helps!

  10. Dustin says: October 4, 20071:37 pm

    HAHAHAHAHA! Ya right! It took the goverment years to make a laser! And now you think some random person can make one? Wow who ever made this site is realy stupid!

  11. Dustin says: October 4, 20071:37 pm

    This site is stupid!

  12. kumquat says: October 28, 20071:40 pm

    can any one e mail me the simple instructions and parts needed to build the laser. and can any one get some freakin sharks.

  13. Blue Laser says: March 25, 200812:14 pm

    Nice work…..

  14. Dustin_is_an_idiot says: May 22, 20085:50 am

    Dustin you are a retard.

  15. sweeney says: July 27, 200810:26 am

    Can you mail me the instrutions?

  16. kelum thushara says: December 16, 20088:35 am

    dear sir/madam
    i am kelum from sri lanka so i like to know how i build a laser beam for my security system
    please help me

  17. Dale Wells says: January 16, 200912:40 am

    Did anyone ever find the supplemantary data sheet for this project. I am buildong it now and would like a copy.

  18. Charlie says: January 16, 20091:03 am

    Dale Wells:

    Here is the original in the google archive:…

  19. Dale Wells says: January 24, 20093:58 am

    Thanks for the feed Charlie. I bought the P/S NOV. 1964 on Ebay. Am still finding old parts.After 40 years not a lot around. Anyone have any?

  20. Dale Wells says: January 28, 20099:05 pm

    If jummy p is still out there do you want to sell your laser? Hard to find the old parts.

  21. Dale Wells says: March 3, 20099:20 pm

    The hook up on the powerstat is backwards, 4 is input and 3 is output. Also the resistors shown in the picture connected to the diodes are not 100 ohm wire wound like the one’s on the relay, Dose anyone have a wireing diagram for this. Sorry about misspelling Jimmy P’s name.

  22. chris says: November 5, 20093:04 pm

    um dustin srry to screw with yor logic but it only took them a long time becuse they dident have anything to go on so yea they dident have theis instructions im 14 and i can make this i just need the parts

  23. […] Here is the schematic if you are interested but the full article can be seen at Modern Mechanix blog […]

  24. Jayessell says: December 10, 20104:13 am

    Wouldn’t the toy laser pointer available from some vending machines
    be more suited to a security system?

    This one only flashes and needs to charge before it can flash again.

  25. Don says: April 29, 20115:07 am

    You wrap glass tubing around the ruby and generate a spark no less then 1/1000 every second. The spark excites the Ion’s in the ruby. Put two mirrors at each end 1/8 inch away from the ruby. Only on one end of the mirror has to be a two way mirror. The exited ions escape through this mirror. Be careful however because pending how big the ruby is and how much spark sent can increase the power of the ions exiting. These processes are being used as ‘Ion Expulsion Systems’ used by NASA moving satellites around and other items in space.

  26. Jari says: April 29, 201111:22 am

    Don: You mixed (ruby) laser with ion propulsion. There’s no escaping ions in the ruby laser.… And NASA’s spacecrafts don’t use lasers for propulsion, but in some cases ion drives or hall thrusters.

  27. […] piece of laser history… or a memory to shattered dreams Check out the article I've found: Build your own LASER! | Modern Mechanix It appears that the November 1964 issue of Popular Science had an article that taught people how to […]

  28. wbhulett says: March 1, 20166:47 pm

    In 1965, I built this home-brew laser system for science fair project. Used it to zap melanomas in hamsters as well as a sarcoplasmic reticulum tumor. Also broke balloons and shot holes in film. I no longer have the power supply but do have one of the bulbs and the ruby crystal. The name of my project was “Scapels without Blades.”

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