5 high-power laser applications

Not all laser applications are as futuristic as Star Wars, but some of the applications involving high-power lasers get pretty close! From nuclear fusion to measuring the distance to the Moon, lasers have found all sorts of surprising uses.

1- Research on nuclear fusion

Positive protons repulse positive protons. And the closer together you bring them, the more they repulse. That is until you reach a tipping point where the protons are so close to one another that nuclear forces can take over, combining the protons into different atoms and releasing a lot of energy (visualizations here).

Arrays of high-power lasers are being used today to force atoms close enough for these nuclear reactions to take place. Unsurprisingly, this requires a lot of power. More power than what is released, for now.

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The hope is to use the power released by the first reactions to stimulate more reactions, causing a cascade effect that would lead to net energy generation, also known as ignition.

2- Welding

In laser welding, lasers are shone at the seam between two materials, melting both materials. They combine while liquid and then form a solid link upon cooling.

This has gained widespread adoption and is now used just about everywhere that traditional welding is. Some of the most high-powered welding lasers can reach 100 kW. These are useful when welding thick metal plates, for example in the shipping industry.

3- Weapons ("directed energy")

Laser-based systems as weapons present many advantages. Lasers travel at the speed of light and are unaffected by wind or gravity, facilitating aiming, even at large distances. Also, they do not require ammunition, only power, usually easing logistical concerns.

The challenges of these laser-based defense systems, such as the Israel laser wall, are not just with generating enough power – with some projects vying for 300 kW – but in delivering that power. Thermal blooming, which happens when laser power is too dense, makes the air itself heat up so much that the laser cannot be aimed properly. Atmospheric conditions like rain and fog also impede a laser weapon’s capacity to hit its target effectively.

4- Measuring the distance to the Moon

By shooting a laser at the Moon and counting how long it takes for the reflected light to come back to Earth, we can calculate the distance to the Moon to within 1 cm.

Lasers have well-collimated beams, but the distance to the Moon is far enough that the initial laser beam width of 7 mm expands to a few kilometers by the time it gets to the Moon! The photons get spread very thin!

Even though each pulse is 1500 mJ, there is just one photon that makes it back to Earth every few seconds.


Here on Earth, the same concept of bouncing light off of objects to measure distance is at the heart of LIDAR technology.

LIDAR is used in ecology and atmospheric sciences, autonomous vehicle “vision” and even by certain smartphones to understand the topology of the surroundings.

LIDAR lasers can utilize lasers with peak powers of up to 10 to 15 kW!

If you are looking for a LIDAR measurement product, check out this page.

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Gentec Electro-Optics is specialized in laser beam and terahertz source measurement and analysis. With an outstanding 50-year track record of innovation, developing and providing state-of the-art technologies to the laser market, Gentec-EO has become The Expert of the laser beam measurement field. For all sorts of laser applications from the factory to the hospital, laboratory and research center, Gentec-EO offers the broadest range of off-the-shelf and custom solutions, and stands ready to serve you now and in the future.
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