Nothing beats a dazzling display of pyrotechnics when Americans celebrate Independence Day. Fireworks bursting in the air on the fourth of July has been a tradition for centuries, with John Adams himself envisioning their inclusion in a variety of annual celebrations.
Unfortunately, there are many areas across the Unites States where the risk of wildfire is too great. In some parts of the American west, all it takes is a spark to start a deadly fire that can spread very quickly. To address this issue, several counties and states are discussing options to replace fireworks with high-intensity laser shows. Although to many high-intensity laser shows with their flashy lights and dancing images projected into the sky to the tune of music sounds much more boring than watching gigantic explosions in the air, the technology has evolved to provide quite an extraordinary viewing experience. Here is a clip demonstrating one of the milder laser light shows at a Minnesota state fair:
Barring the Kesha song (sorry Kesha fans), this Minnesota state fair light show seemed generally pleasing to the audience.
Laser technology has come a long way in the last decade, evolving from the flair of simple red and green lights, to include an array of colors and animations. Increasingly, brilliant light shows also complement music concerts and festivals, sporting events, and many other public gatherings for entertainment. Sometimes, these light shows are also featured during regular business gatherings, as seen in this video taken last year at a Hewlett Packard convention where employees were provided an experience not unlike what you’d find at a rave.
The process involved in creating these beautiful, high-intensity light shows has to do with the “agitation atoms,” according to ABC news. The science behind it consists of highly focused beams of light with almost identical wavelengths, usually generated from tubes of inert gas, such as Krypton or Argon.
A high-voltage current is directed through the tube, which agitates the atoms that make up the gas. The atoms eventually return to their normal state and as they do, they release energy in the form of photons — or light.
With the use of mirrors, gas, and a bit of ingenuity in controlling the beams, light show technicians can render an almost limitless array of animations to appear right before our eyes.
Despite the advances made in laser light technology, breaking long held traditions will be difficult, even if necessary in high-risk areas where wildfires are common.