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ARGON ION LASERS



Last updated 04-09-09:
488nm SINGLE LINE SINGLE MODE (TEM00) ARGON ION LASER
I've been wanting an argon ion laser for many, many years (since receiving a Metrologic ML-800 0.5mW helium neon laser in the early 1980s, and seeing an argon-ion laser at the California State Fair at about the same time), so when Federal Express showed up around 2:30pm PST today (11-12-03), I was very eager to rip open the package, because I knew what was in there!!! Inside, I found a Spectra-Physics 161B-060 air cooled argon laser head, and a Spectra-Physics 261B air cooled exciter (power supply unit)!


Here is the laser head and PSU set on top of my Commodore CBM 8032 computer. I chose this location because it's stable, and the computer has a metal chassis so heat won't be an issue.

The laser head itself weighs about as much as a women's bowling ball (10-13 pounds), and the exciter (power supply unit) weighs 3-4 times as much. Best guess, somewhere around 35 to 40 pounds on that exciter. I don't have anything handy to weigh them on, so these figures are only guesses.

The laser head was manufactured in March 1993.
I don't know when the PSU was made; it is not stated.


Here is a picture of the laser's beam. It outputs 16mW CW (continuous wave) at 488nm; a striking shade of turquoise blue. It operates at TEM00 (Transverse Electromagnetic Mode 00) This simply means it produces a round beam with a gaussian power distribution. I don't know what the beam divergence is, but it appears to be under 2 Mrad (Milliradians). It also eclipses the 6.8mW helium-neon you see on my Melles Griot HeNe Laser Head web page as the most powerful gas laser in my arsenal.
16mW for this laser versus not quite 7mW for that HeNe laser head.
You be the judge. :)

The orangish color you see behind the laser head appears to be a power indicator (there's a small light bulb on the back of the laser head), not something more sinister like fire or magic smoke.


Here's another photograph of this laser's beam.

When you turn the laser off, you should turn the "emission" switch on the exciter off, and allow the fans to continue running for one or two minutes or so to ensure the laser head is cooled off. THEN you can unplug it - first turning off the "power" switch on the exciter. There is a sticker near the power switch that reads "Operate fan until laser head cools", so you really can't forget unless you're very careless - and if you're that careless, you probably shouldn't use or own an argon ion laser like this, or larger argon lasers like Lexel 88s. If you forget this part, you could cause damage to the laser by having too much heat in there.
:-O


This is a closer look at the laser's head, illuminated with a Fire~Bug flashlight.
More info about this laser will be provided shortly. I've never had an argon ion laser before, so I guess I'd better go to Sam's Laserfacts here and here, and bone up on my knowledge of them. I think this laser will be happier if I know more about it. :) The fans on the laser head and power supply are fairly loud - think of a soft vaccume cleaner motor sound and that'll give you an idea of the fan noise. I definitely want to turn this off when I go to bed at night or I'll never get to sleep.


Veemon, digivolve to...Exveemon!!!
Veeeeeeee Laserrrrr!!!!!


This is what Exveemon looks like.

(If you didn't get it, Veemon is a little blue digimon (artificial life form) that gets bigger, spins, and changes to such creatures as Exveemon and Raidramon when he "digivolves". When he digivolves to "Exveemon", he gets bigger, gets wings, a longer tail, and has something called a "Vee Laser" that he can shoot (such as to hose down those black control spires or a bad digimon or something). And he shouts out "Veeeeeeee Laserrrrr!!!!!" when he uses it. (It's not a blue laser, but Exveemon himself is blue).
Digimon is a cartoon on TV that Fox used to show.)
Awww, look at the cute little blue digimon, perfect company for a cute little blue laser. :-)


Here's the spot on the wall from about 20 feet away. There *are* some artifacts outside the main beam, but not nearly as bad as the camera made them look. By far, most of the ringyness and artifacts you see in this picture are added by the camera, and do not appear in real life. In reality, the blue spot on the wall has a very neat, clean look to it.


And here's the same picture, with photoflash.

From Sam G. himself, comes the following little goodie:
If the laser doesn't start after more than a few ignition attempts, set the laser tube current to 8 amps (once it's fired up, of course; and using the meter on the face of the PSU to read this), let it run for about two hours, then shut it down and allow it to cool. If the tube pressure is a bit high, doing this should drive it back down closer to where it ought to be, and subsequent startings should be easier.

This technique worked on this laser. I ran it at 8 amps for two hours, then shut it down for a couple of more hours. When I restarted it, the laser came on with the first ignition attempt, exactly what it's supposed to do.

Prior to doing this, the laser would not start until after 3-9 ignition attempts. Each failed attempt results in approximately 0.1 seconds of lasing, followed by darkness; and would include a relay or solenoid type clicking sound in the PSU when the laser flashes, and another relay or solenoid type clicking sound in there about a second later.

This argon ion laser was provided by G.F. of New Hampshire. Thank you, G.F.!!!


Update: 05-23-04
I just bought an Exveemon plush (the one who has the "Vee Laser" weapon) on Ebay, and it will be photographed with this laser when I receive it.


Update: 07-10-04
And here's the photograph I promised:
(I had Exveemon on the steering arm of my electric wheelchair for about four weeks; sorry about the delay).


Veemon, digivolve to...EXVEEMON!!!
{shouting} VEEEEEE LASERRRRRRRRR!!!!!!


Update: 06-25-05
In response to an email I received in early-May 2005, this is how you should set the exciter:

The meter on the exciter should read both laser power in milliwatts and tube current in amps.
Look for a toggle switch near the meter, and set it to amperes. Turn the power output knob to about 1/4 intensity (1/4 of a turn clockwise from its lowest position). Flip the local/remote switch to the "local" position, and flip the current/light switch to the "light" position.

Be certain the laser head is plugged into the exciter. Plug the exciter into a 110-130 volts AC receptacle (on a circuit that can supply at least 16 amps). Turn the power switch on, wait for the fans to come up to speed, then turn the key switch to the "on" or "lase" position.

If this laser has not been in use for awhile, set the current to 8 amperes after the laser begins to lase (using the current/power adjustment knob and reading the current off the PSU''s meter), and leave it that way for two hours.
This will lower the pressure in the laser tube to where it should be. It will be perfectly normal for the laser to not fire up right away; but lase for approximately 0.1 second, followed by some clicking noises in the exciter, followed by several seconds of nothing at all, followed by the sequence repeating as many as ten or fifteen times. Do not be concerned if this happens; just set the tube current to 8 amps once the laser does fire up, and let it run at that current for two hours.

After that, set the tube current to ~4 amps. You can then set the current/power switch to whatever suits your preference. The only thing this switch will affect is the meter reading.


Update: 07-14-06
When I connected this laser to power for its once-monthly maintenance, I measured a beam power of 18.6992mW on a laser power meter specifically designed for this purpose.

Update: 10-20-06
When I connected this laser to power for its (approximately) once-monthly maintenance, I measured a beam power of 18.5952mW on a laser power meter specifically designed for this purpose.

Update: 11-17-06
When I connected this laser to power for its (approximately) once-monthly maintenance, I measured a beam power of 18.4912mW on a laser power meter specifically designed for this purpose.

Update: 04-09-09
Spectrographic analysis
Spectrographic analysis of this laser.


Spectrographic analysis
Same as above; spectrometer's response range narrowed to a band between 478nm and 498nm to help pinpoint wavelength. Color was left "on" because the trendline (thin red line) was still easily visible.


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