Exploring this Job
Talk to your school counselor about careers in laser technology. If you live near a community or technical college that offers programs in laser technology, visit the institution and talk with counselors and teachers. In addition, review some of the periodicals that are devoted to the field of lasers. Periodicals such as the Journal of Laser Applications (https://lia.scitation.org/journal/jla) and LaserFocusWorld (https://www.laserfocusworld.com) may offer valuable insight into the field.
Lasers are used in so many places that it should be fairly easy to find a local laser technician, operator, or engineer who can share knowledge about his or her job. It might be possible to find summer or part-time work in construction, manufacturing, or mining where lasers are used in measuring, cutting and welding, and surveying. This type of work can give you a look at jobs in laser technology.
Laser technicians perform a wide variety of tasks. Much depends upon their positions and places of employment. For example, some repair lasers and instruct companies on their use, while others work as technicians for very specific applications, such as optical surgery or welding parts.
In general, most technicians are employed in one of five areas: materials processing, communications, military, medical, and research. Technicians are involved in building laser devices in any one of these fields. To build a solid-state laser, they construct, cut, and polish a crystal rod to be used in the laser. They put a flash tube around the crystal and place the unit in a container with a mirror at each end. Using precision instruments, they position the mirrors so that all emitted or reflected light passes through the crystal. Finally, they put the laser body in a chassis, install tubing and wiring to the controls, and place a jacket around the assembly.
There are other duties that all technicians perform, no matter what application they work in. These include taking measurements, cleaning, aligning, inspecting, and operating lasers, and collecting data. Since the laser field is so technologically advanced, computers are used in many tasks and applications. Technicians may be responsible for programming the computers that control the lasers, for inputting data, or for generating reports.
In materials processing, lasers are used for machining, production, measurement, construction, excavation, and photo-optics. Technicians often read and interpret diagrams, schematics, and shop drawings in order to assemble components themselves or oversee the assembly process. They may operate lasers for welding, precision drilling, cutting, and grinding of metal parts, or for trimming and slicing electronic components and circuit elements. They may use lasers to verify precise parts sizes. Finally, technicians may be involved in part marking—using a laser to mark an identifying number or letter on each component. In construction, they may use a laser as a surveying guideline or an aligning tool.
Laser technicians in communications use lasers to generate light impulses transmitted through optical fibers. They help to develop, manufacture, and test optical equipment, and they may design, set up, monitor, and maintain fiber fabrication facilities. This field also uses lasers for data storage and retrieval.
In military and space projects, lasers are frequently used for target finding, tracking, ranging, identification, and communications. Technicians repair and adapt low-power lasers, which are widely used for these applications.
In medical applications, technicians serve as technical equipment experts and assist physicians and surgeons who use the laser system. They advise on which type of laser and method of delivery to use. They must be on hand during laser procedures to offer recommendations, fine-tune attachments and machines, and troubleshoot, should a technical problem occur.
In research and development, lasers are being studied as a source of high-intensity heat in controlled nuclear fusion. These studies are part of the continuing research to produce inexpensive electrical power. Technicians on any research and development team use lasers and electronic devices to perform tests, take measurements, gather data, and make calculations. They may prepare reports for engineers, doctors, scientists, production managers, or lab workers.