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Learning Laser Beams: Tools To Teach Your Kids About High-Tech

by Eva Gilbert

High school science teachers have had to step up their game every year for the last twenty years. Why? Because technology has just kept improving and advancing, and because kids need to learn this new technology (or at least learn about it) as it becomes available. Take lasers and communication for instance. There is so much to learn about these related topics that a science teacher could easily spend a month teaching it using the following components.

Fast Steering Mirrors

These mirrors tilt and project laser beams rapidly, They "steer" the beams in the direction that users want them to go. Once used only by the military and NASA, fast steering mirrors are now used in many commercial industries too. If you cannot afford a commercial steering mirror in your science class budget, there are ways to build a model of one. Otherwise, visit a technology and communications factory with your class to see a fast steering mirror in action.

Lasers and Laser Emitters

Lasers and laser emitters both create and project laser beams. For your class, you will want a laser/emitter that projects a cool, not hot, laser. When used in conjunction with a fast steering mirror, you can show your students some really neat effects and how rapidly a laser can be diverted to targets. Make sure you can turn the laser on and off and that it does not heat up to a dangerous temperature over the course of the hour that you teach.

Laser Splitter

A laser splitter is similar to a steering mirror in that the laser beam is targeted onto the splitter's surface. However, the splitter allows the laser to pass through and split off into two or more directions to send duplicate "signals" to those directions simultaneously. This is a fun component to add to the class and the topic because you can teach about the different applications that lasers and splitters have when used together.

Laser Magnifiers

Laser magnifiers make the beam of a laser wider in diameter and/or more powerful in its focus. If you have enough time to teach more about lasers and communication in your high school science class, consider setting up an experiment in the lab using lasers and laser magnifiers in a very controlled and short-burst/pulse setting. Be forewarned; the kids are going to get a really good bang! out of it! Make sure the students step back when the laser is turned on and the magnifier and target are in place.