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Hands-on Activity: Lasers, Let's Find 'Em!
Contributed by: VU Bioengineering RET Program, School of Engineering, Vanderbilt University

 Finalist - 2009 Premier Curriculum Award for K-12 Engineering 

Photo shows a table-top contraption with a tube of glowing light and a dot of red light appearing on a screen at one end.
A helium-neon (or HeNe) laser demonstration. Note the red dot on the screen.

Summary

Students research particular types of lasers and find examples of how they are used in technology today. Teams present their findings by means of PowerPoint presentations, videos or brochures. The class takes notes on the presentations using a provided handout. This activity prepares students for the "go public" phase of the legacy cycle in which they solve the grand challenge by designing and producing a laser-based security system.

Engineering Connection

Relating science concept to engineering

When lasers were first created they were known as "the solution looking for a problem." (Townes, 2003) Engineers are constantly looking to improve technology that has already been well accepted, which can be a challenge in a society with an attitude of, "if it isn't broken, don't fix it." Engineer-developed applications for lasers may be found in hospitals, battlefields, electronics and factories. Medical uses include bloodless surgery, vision restoration and tattoo removal, while military uses include missile guidance, optical storage and improved radar functions. In the investigating questions of this activity, students are prompted to consider the various engineering applications of lasers in technology today.

Contents

  1. Pre-Req Knowledge
  2. Learning Objectives
  3. Materials
  4. Introduction/Motivation
  5. Vocabulary
  6. Procedure
  7. Attachments
  8. Investigating Questions
  9. Assessment
  10. Extensions
  11. Activity Scaling
  12. References

Grade Level: 7 (6-8) Group Size: 3
Time Required: 100 minutes
Expendable Cost Per Group
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Related Curriculum :

Educational Standards :    

  •   International Technology and Engineering Educators Association: Technology
    • F. Knowledge gained from other fields of study has a direct effect on the development of technological products and systems. (Grades 6 - 8) [2000] ...more
    • H. Use information provided in manuals, protocols, or by experienced people to see and understand how things work. (Grades 6 - 8) [2000] ...more
  •   National Council of Teachers of Mathematics: Math
    • recognize and apply geometric ideas and relationships in areas outside the mathematics classroom, such as art, science, and everyday life (Grades 6 - 8) [2000] ...more
    • understand relationships among the angles, side lengths, perimeters, areas, and volumes of similar objects (Grades 6 - 8) [2000] ...more
    • precisely describe, classify, and understand relationships among types of two- and three-dimensional objects using their defining properties (Grades 6 - 8) [2000] ...more
    • draw geometric objects with specified properties, such as side lengths or angle measures (Grades 6 - 8) [2000] ...more
Does this curriculum meet my state's standards?       

Pre-Req Knowledge (Return to Contents)

Students should have a basic understanding of light properties, how lasers work and how excited matter emits different color photons, as provided in this unit's lessons 2 and 3: Learning Light's Properties, and Laser Types and Uses (which includes the Making an Electric Pickle demo and Red/Green Lasers through Different Mediums demo).

Learning Objectives (Return to Contents)

After this activity, students should be able to:
  • Identify types of lasers and their functions.
  • Describe laser applications in today's world.
  • Select the most appropriate laser for the security system design.
This activity also meets the following Tennessee Foundations of Technology educational technology content standards: 1.4, 3.2, 4.2, 4.3, 5.3, 6.1, 7.2, 8.1, 8.2, 8.3 and 8.4; see http://www.state.tn.us/education/cte/
This activity also meets the following International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) standards: 1.1, 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, 3.1, 3.2, 4.1, 4.2, 5.1, 5.2, 5.3, 6.1, 6.2; see http://www.iste.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=NETS

Materials List (Return to Contents)

Each group needs:
  • computer with Internet access
  • word processing software, such as Word, Open Office, etc.
  • presentation software application, such as Microsoft PowerPoint
  • (optional) video cameras and video-editing software application, such as Movie Maker, I-Movie, etc.
  • blank copy paper and markers (for groups that choose the option of making brochures)
  • Laser Research Form, one per group per student (cut each sheet in half to create two forms)

Introduction/Motivation (Return to Contents)

What types of lasers can you name? From what we explored in the Making an Electric Pickle demo (see Laser Types and Uses lesson), what do you know about chemical compounds and their affect on color? Do you think there is a relationship between laser names and the chemical compounds associated with the type of radiation they emit? Have you ever heard of a HeNe laser, or how about an argon laser?
In today's activity, we will explore the various types of lasers, why they are named what they are named, and what their uses are in science and technology today. After researching your assigned laser type, you will create a PowerPoint presentation, a small film clip, or a pamphlet to present to the class. At the conclusion of the presentations, each of you should be able to select the most appropriate laser to be used in the mummified troll security system. Further, you should each understand how lights' properties in various mediums enable the system to detect movement near the troll.

Vocabulary/Definitions (Return to Contents)

laser: A device that emits coherent light through a specific mechanism. An acronym for light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation.

Before the Activity

Photo shows a person using a handheld barcode scanner at a store check-out stand.
What kind of laser is used in barcode readers?
  • Have available enough computers with Internet access, as well as presentation, word processing and/or video editing software applications.
  • Gather materials and make copies of the attached Laser Research Form, one per student per number of groups, for students to take notes on during the presentations. Each student may need several forms, depending on the number of presentations.

With the Students

  1. Describe the assignment to students.
  2. Divide the class into teams of two or three students each.
  3. Assign each group a laser type to research. Laser types: helium neon laser, argon laser, ruby laser, carbon dioxide laser, oxygen iodine laser, M-THEL (mobile tactile high energy lasers), etc.
  4. Give enough time for students to find information and create presentations.
  5. After about 50 minutes of research and presentation preparation, begin the class presentations.
  6. Direct students who not presenting to take notes using the blank forms.

Investigating Questions (Return to Contents)

  • What makes the laser you researched unique compared to the other lasers you learned about?
  • How has this laser affected inventions and innovations with other technologies?

Activity Embedded Assessment

Participation Grade: Consider students' presentations and group contributions in formulating their daily participation grades.

Activity Extensions (Return to Contents)

If students show an interest in one or more types of lasers, contact local university, college or industry organizations to inquire if someone can bring one for a classroom demonstration.

Activity Scaling (Return to Contents)

  • For lower grades, provide more time for research and compilation of information.
  • For upper grades, allow less time for research and compilation of information, as might be the case in the real-world with deadlines and time limitations.

Dictionary.com. Lexico Publishing Group,LLC. Accessed August 7, 2008. (Source of vocabulary definitions, with some adaptation) http://www.dictionary.com

Townes, Charles H. (2003). "The First Laser," in Laura Garwin and Tim Lincoln: A Century of Nature: Twenty-One Discoveries that Changed Science and the World. University of Chicago Press, 107-12. ISBN 0-226-28413-1.

Contributors

Terry Carter (primary author)

Copyright

© 2008 by Vanderbilt University
Including copyrighted works from other educational institutions and/or U.S. government agencies; all rights reserved. The contents of this digital library curriculum were developed under a grant from the National Science Foundation RET grants no. 0338092 and 0742871. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the National Science Foundation, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

Supporting Program (Return to Contents)

VU Bioengineering RET Program, School of Engineering, Vanderbilt University

Last Modified: July 22, 2014
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