Copper Vapor Laser

Project Type: Lasers and Optics

Project Information

Project Description:

Copper Vaport Laser diagramThe task is to design, build and test a copper-chloride (CuCl) and/or copper-bromide (CuBr) laser.  The laser is a collection of numerous technologies that include an optical system, high-vacuum system, a double-pulse high-voltage power supply, high-temperature oven, and various diagnostics to measure oven temperature, light pulses, and electrical signals.  The vacuum system maintains a low pressure of helium or argon in the laser tube that also contains small patches of powered CuCl or CuBr.  The high-temperature oven melts the power to produce a halide vapor.  The first pulse from the power supply disassociates the copper from the Cl or Br and the second pulse excites the copper to a high energy level shown in the diagram.  The laser produces two colors of light, green and yellow, at the same time but they can be separated using a grating.  Light from the laser is very intense so many safety precautions will be taken.

Level of Difficulty: High


halide, atomic disassociation, vapor pressure, wavelength, optical gain, stimulated emission, spontaneous emission, grating, optical resonator, hydrogen thyratron


“How Lasers Work (in theory)”;

Team Roles

Electrical Engineer (2) – The Electrical Engineers on the project are responsible for the design and construction of the high-voltage, two-pulse power system.  The system uses a hydrogen thyratron switch to produce two rough pulses separated by about 200 microseconds.  A ferrite-based magnetic switch is used to shape the rough pulses into a high peak power pulses that are applied to the quartz laser discharge tube.

Mechanical Engineer (2) – The Mechanical Engineers are responsible for the design and construction of the high-vacuum system and the high-temperature oven that surrounds the quartz discharge tube.  On the vacuum side, the system must pump out the air and replace it with a flowing stream of helium or argon with a base pressure of a few Torr.  The oven must reach controlled temperatures between 400 to 600 °C (750 to 1110 °F) and maintain a specific temperature (depending on the halide) while the laser operates.

Physicist (2) – Physicists on the project are responsible for the design and construction of a rugged optical system that holds and adjusts the rear mirror and output optical coupler.  The optical rail supporting the resonator optics must also support the laser tube, oven, and output stage of the power system.   Additionally, the Physicists are the only project members who will be trained to safely handle, dispense, and store the copper-based chemicals.

Computer Scientist (2) – The Computer Scientists on the project are responsible for the data-acquisition system that gathers and displays power system pulses, oven temperature, gas pressure, flow rate, and optical output from a large array of sensors.  The data is processed to help peak the laser’s performance by tuning the many system variables.

Designer (2) – Designers on the project blend the design goals of the various teams into a device that can be manufactured, maintained, assembled, transported, and is safe to operate in public demonstrations.  Designers validate the system assembly with CAD illustrations and supervise all component manufacturing.

Journalist (1) – The Journalist documents the project’s progress on the website, communicates with the local media, and is responsible for a final report.  The Journalist also works closely with the Multimedia Artist to provide video and graphic art displays for demonstrations that explain the project to the public.  The whole project is your project.

Multimedia Artist (1) – The Artist also documents the project’s progress on the website and works with the Journalist to maintain the project’s presence on social media.  Additionally, the Artist designs and organizes all public relations events to assure spectator safety and to enhance the community’s awareness of science and technology.  The whole project is your project.

Business Manager (1) – The Business Manager is responsible for reporting the project’s progress against a predetermined schedule, determines critical path items to completion, and tracks project spending to assure that costs remain within a fixed budget.  The Manager works with all team members to identify problems early and resolve them quickly.  The whole project is your project.

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