The following is a list of memorable occurrence of the
laser in the movies
and on TV. In order to reduce the list to a reasonable size
we will usually omit the numerous uses of lasers as hand phasers
or beam weapons in science fiction. We begin with the most
realistic portrayal of lasers in the movies, James Bond's gadgets.
Then with the Star Trek series (STNG, DS9, Voyager etc...) and finally
with other movies.
- James Bond Movies
- Star Trek
- GoldenEye (1995)
- Omega Seamaster Professional Divers's wrist watch contains a laser used
to escape from the villain's private train which is about to explode.
- Miniature laser contained in a mountain climber's piton gun is used
to burn through a steel doorway to a secret russian bio weapons
facility concealed inside a hydroelectric dam.
- Moonraker (1979)
James Bond is about to be sliced in half by Auric Goldfinger's
- From a space shuttle, James Bond uses a laser to destroy several
pods before they reenter earth's atmosphere and destroy humanity with
lethal nerve gas.
- In the temporary 'Q' laboratories in Rio de Janeiro, a laser rifle
is tested on rubber dummy and the head seems to be melting.
The rifles are later used by a squad of 'space-marines'
powered by MMU's (Manned Maneuvering Units).
Bond: "Do you expect me to talk ?"
Goldfinger: "No Mr. Bond, I expect you to die !"
- Goldfinger (1964)
- High power ruby laser used by Goldfinger to process metals (how?)
Goldfinger attempts to use it for more sadistic purposes on a helpless James Bond.
- Diamonds are Forever (1971)
- Diamonds are the lasing material used for constructing
a satellite based laser weapon used by Specter to extort
money from the nuclear powers. The diamonds are part
of a parabolic antenna, which is curious because normally
this is used to focus radiation. If the diamonds were lasing
they would have to be optically pumped;
electrical pumping is not an option because natural diamond
is one of the best electrical insulators around.
Also they would have to be phase locked otherwise the
beam would quickly degrade due to incoherent addition of
multiple beams with random relative phases. One point that is
overlooked by the author(s) is how the laser makes it trough
atmospheric turbulence without distortion ?
- Never Say Never Again (1983)
- Russian whiz kid formerly of the KGB constructs
high powered laser in a wrist watch. Bond uses it to cut
off his steel wrist shackles holding his prisoner in a dungeon.
- The Living Daylights (1987)
- Laser in the wheel of an
Astin Martin Volante. Bond uses it
to causes a separation of the undercarriage of a pursuing police car.
- Star Trek
- Good old phasers are used in most episodes.
- Star Trek episode -
Patterns of Force
Captain James T. Kirk and his second in command Spock are locked
in jail cell on a planet controlled by a Nazi regime. To escape
they cut they way through the lock by using a pair of subcutaneous
locator crystals to create a primitive laser pumped
by the light bulb in their cell.
Spock fixes the crystals a precise distance apart with a piece of
metal from the mattress in their cell, supposedly to create a resonant
cavity something like the cleaved coupled cavity laser (C3 laser) used
by the telecommunications industry :
Each crystal could probably produce strong amplified spontaneous emission
(a kind of weak laser effect) but it is not very bright and lacks
directionality. However if both crystals are combined and properly
aligned into a Fabry-Perot resonator cavity with parallel faces
their combined gain would exceed the laser threshold and extremely
bright and highly directional laser oscillation would occur.
The gain factor of both lasers combined increases by more than
a factor of two due to the exponentially amplifying nature of the laser
- DS9 (Deep Space Nine episode) - Our Man Bashir
A spoof of James Bond in which the villain intends to flood the earth
by firing lasers into the earth's crust at various key strategic points.
- Star Trek The Next Generation - Barkley hijacks enterprise
- When Barkley attempts to regain control of the fusion
reactors aboard the Argus astronomical array, he constructs
a neural interface directly to his brain on the holodeck.
The device apparently probes his brain with what looks
like blue lasers shining onto his skull via some kind of support
- MacGyver (TV, 1985-) Episodes:
Pilot, Heist, Human Factor, Lost Love and Wall.
- Pilot : Kicked grate to test for hidden laser.
Lit cigarette with the beam and used the smoke the reveal the beam's location.
Using a binocular eyepiece the the beam was deflected towards the
source to destroy the laser itself.
- Heist : Found a laser beam with cigar ashes,
rerouted it with a plastic tube
and passed under it by 'limbo-dancing'.
- Human Factor :
Tightrope walked over laser trap floor.
Using a mirror a mop and a pail, the laser beam was redirected to destroy the laser.
- Lost Love :
A hidden laser beam was revealed by creating a cloud of climber's chalk
and observing the light from the beam scattering off the particles.
(or was it powdered cleaning agent)
- Wall : A signal flare was used to detect a laser beam.
- MaxGyver - "The Legend Of The Holy Rose"
- MacGyver stumbles across the ancient artifacts of Ambrose.
He first comes across the 'Diana's Mirror' and by following
inscriptions on this mirror MacGyver begins a quest for the rest of
the artifacts of Ambrose. His search eventualy leads him to the
temple which contains the treasure.
The mirror unlocks a device and releases three scepters
each containing a large white crystal.
Eventualy, these scepters will unlock the puzzle and reveal the
location of the 'Holy Rose', a ruby crystal.
This ruby is eventually placed at the center of an enclosure
consisting of five petals which are highly polished on their inner
surfaces. The assembly forms a spherical globe with two openings.
Once at the site, MacGyver assembles the five artifacts on a specially
designed rock or optical table. The mirror is positioned above the
ruby, and the scepters are aligned in a straight line in front of the ruby.
MacGyver then suggests that it is an ancient 'optical pump' or laser.
The mirror concentrates the sun's rays, and reflects the light into the ruby crystal,
the light is bounced off the five reflective surfaces and into the ruby, the light is
amplified, then it is further amplified by the scepters.
Well a crude laser never the less...
(movie reviewed by
- Star Wars (1977)
- The 'Death Star' was used by Darth Vader to destroy ships
or entire planets in the Empire's attempt to subdue the rebellion.
- Andromeda Strain (1970)
- Scientist is perforated by a laser weapon supposedly designed
only to destroy small infected lab rats that have escaped accidentally.
- Congo (1995)
- While prospecting for rare blue diamonds for ultra fast
computer chips (or is it lasers?)
an expedition is protected by a perimeter of defensive lasers.
- Fortress (1993)
- In the future, lasers are used to control inmates in an
underground prison in middle of the desert.
- Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (1985, TV)
- A laser is used as the data link to a virtual reality headset
designed to reconstruct historical events using some kind of
direct brain stimulation technique (bypassing the usual
| Real thermonuclear fusion laser used in the movie 'Tron'.
Inertial confinement research at Lawrence Livermore National Labs.
- Tron (1982)
- A research lab has perfected the means of digitizing living
matter by using ultra-high power lasers to 'pixelize' a 3D object
and decompose it into bits of information fed to a computer.
The hero of the movie is 'decomposed' against his will by the laser
and ends up in a virtual world inside the supercomputer.
The set used in the movie is actually Lawrence Livermore National Labs
SHEVA the worlds most powerful laser at the time.
In real life this laser is used for high energy experiments in
thermonuclear fusion by inertial confinement.
- Fantastic Voyage (1966)
- A miniturized laser is used to perform arterial surgery
in the brain of an important scientist rescued from behind the iron
curtain. This foreshadows the present-day use of such lasers in
unblocking coronary arteries.
- Manhattan Project (1986)
- A bright whiz kid is taken on a tour of a plutonium reprocessing
plant which uses high powered lasers to perform isotope separation.
The chief scientist lights his cigar using the beam and reveals
the path the beam takes by blowing smoke over it.
The physics of laser isotope separation relies on the highly selective
nature of intense laser radiation to cause non-linear multi-photon
ionization of molecules containing various isotopes of plutonium.
However, there is a flaw in the realism of the premise :
Historically, only uranium 235 required isotopic separators
because trace amounts of the bomb grade fissionable material are
found mixed with quasi-useless U238. Plutonium produced as
a nuclear reactor byproduct is relatively 'easy' to extract
by simpler chemical means. The difficulty in plutonium processing are
due to the extreme toxicity of plutonium and the high levels of
radioactivity associated with spent fuel rods.
Perhaps they are extracting a particular isotope of plutonium ?
(this should not be necessary as all isotopes of plutonium are
unstable and highly fissionable)
- The Final Countdown (1980)
- The USS Nimitz enters a time warp, the special effects used
to create a surreal tunnel are created by shining a laser on a spinning
mirror to give the appearance of a light tunnel. The beam cuts trough
dense smoke and reveals the complex vortex structure of the smoke
as it spirals and diffuses. The laser beam is so thin that it
can reveal these two dimensional cross sections
which are usually never seen when viewing the smoke under normal
illumination because all the layers are illuminated simultaneously
which blurs the fine structure of the smoke vortexes and turbulence.
- Doctor Who (TV)
the Doctors' mechanical canine has a laser in his nose.
"My ! It certainly packs a powerful wallop doesn't it !"
- Sinbad - episode:
"King Firouz" (TV)
the genius inventor, a member of Sinbad's crew
constructs a device called a "Beamer" to transmit encoded optical
information between far away lands, "This invention could change
worldwide communications !". (any viewer knows that
this device is a primitive laser, which has
revolutionized telecommunications via fiber-optics).
The initial test accidentally fires a beam so powerful it blows up the side
of a mountain.
The portable device sits atop a simple tripod.
A collapsible flower petal array of highly reflective brass mirrors
collects and focusses sunlight onto a series quartz crystals
arranged radially at the focus of each petal.
The crystals re-direct and combine the sub-beams
onto the sides of a large fist-sized spherical ruby crystal
suspended in the center of a cylindrical metal housing with
a mirror at one end. A collimating lens is visible at the output side
of the tube, and one can deduce that it is half silvered or
there must be a second partially silvered mirror to create the
The spherical shape of the crystal indicates a
confocal resonator, however the lack of silver coating
on the ends of the ruby would necessitate an external mirror cavity.
In later tests, Firouz has designed a special mask
to be inserted between the ruby and the front mirror
to spoil the resonance properties of the cavity, hence
preventing laser action by reducing the optical feedback
below the loss threshold. If this 'lens-cap' were inserted
outside the cavity, the laser beam might melt it.
With the mask in place the ruby fluoresces mostly by spontaneous
emission in all directions randomly.
However, when it is removed, the beam immediately appears,
indicating that the light has bounced back and forth within the mirrored
cavity with very little loss and has been exponentially amplified
by stimulated emission at each pass leading to a highly directional
When fired, it makes a high pitched electrical whine a kind of
'shrill' noise, this is puzzling as
there are no electrical transformers, no storage batteries,
no gas discharge flashlamps.
Maybe the sound is from acoustic oscillations of the quartz and
ruby crystal under intense thermal stress, the brass supporting structure
could act as a conduit channeling the vibrational modes
to the large solar collector petals. The petals seemed rather
flimsy and vibrated a lot when the device was moved, so
it is not unreasonable to expect them to amplify vibrations
like a megaphone.
The red beam shouldn't be visible because
the air around the laser is perfectly clear.
In real life only synthetically grown rubies are used,
has too many iron impurities to successfully fluoresce at the laser
emission wavelength. Plans for solar pumped lasers have been published.
- JAG (1995, TV) -
- Investigation of the failure of the emergency space shuttle escape system
after an aborted lauch attempt at Vandenberg Air Force base
reveals that a laser was responsible for sabotaging a cable.
The laser is to be used in an upcoming shuttle mission.
'Beam Rider', a
launch vehicle on its maiden flight.
- Mr. and Mrs. Smith - episode 9:
- The 'BeamRider' project, a laser powered
loses its NASA funding so the chief scientist defects and attempts
to launch the probe with the help of a questionable funding source.
In the picture above, some of the technicians are standing uncomfortably
close the potentially fatal exhaust plumes. (now that I think of it
I didn't see any exhaust plumes ?). Almost none of
the ground crew wore laser safety goggles, a momentary stray reflection
and they could go blind, not to mention suffer severe skin burns.
(a few sci.space.policy
'It is so elegant in its simplicity ...
you fire a powerful laser at the bottom of the spacecraft, the beam interacts with the
coating to create a gas which is dispelled just like the plume of a rocket,
but you don't need fuel ... once your in orbit your half-way to anywhere
said by Craig Thompson, Chief Scientist for the
Science Fact: The real
a laser propelled spacecraft was recently
and reached an altitude of 30 meters.
|The 50 cm wide beam from a 10 kw CO2 laser
is focussed by a parabolic mirror at the base of the vehicle into
a ring shaped plasma. Air at the focal point is heated to between
10,000 and 30,000 Kelvin at tens of atmospheres by kilojoule
laser pulses lasting 30 microseconds and repeated 10 times per second.
After each pulse the plasma expands and cools very rapidly producing thrust and
a brief flash of visible light. Air flowing through the vehicle
replenishes the supply of gas near the focal point. The aluminum craft
is 15 cm in diameter, has a mass of 50 grams and is gyroscopically
The "Lightcraft" is designed at the
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
and launched at the
White Sands Missile Range
with a SDI laser which is normally used for testing ICBM components for
vulnerability to laser countermeasures from a strategic missile defence system.
It is the highest average power, pulsed carbon dioxide laser presently
operating in the U.S.
The team is planning to use a more powerful
150 kw CO2
laser in preparation for flights to the edge of space (100 km altitude).
Laser propulsion costs several orders of magnitude less
than chemical-fueled rockets. Near term applications include launching microsatellites.
There is another project called
which uses lasers to create shock waves by detonating the air
ahead of the ship as it ascends into orbit, this reduces the atmospheric drag.
- Spy Game (1997) - episode : "Dead and Gone, Honey!"
- Margo deSalle, ex-chief scientist of a secret weapons division in the U.S.
government attempts to regain control of project Tempest,
mothballed after a catastrophic test which resulted in the death of
3 lab technicians. The laser weapon is based on
a tri-crystalline light vortex which supposedly can generate an absolute
light vacuum and designed to feed on any type of matter or energy
and grow in power indefinitely, eventually destroying everything.
(quote: 'Those crystals make the atomic bomb look like a sparkler')
It looks like a three mirror ring laser with crystal
laser amplifiers at each apex. Secondary beams are generated
from the apex crystals and the number of sub-beams increases over
time producing something like a mirrored disco-ball laser light show.
In real life, lasers are being used to cool small bunches of atoms to
such low temperatures that they are almost stationary. Presumably
the authors of the story have extrapolated into the future where
such a laser could condense the atoms and molecules in the air
resulting in a partial vacuum; the powerful shock waves
resulting from the sudden implosion of the surrounding air is
what ultimately causes the material damage. The rotating beams
also appear to be inducing a wind vortex as the outside air swirls
inwards to fill the vacuum creating tornadic damage as well.
Some of the sub-beams seem to emanate from thin air above Tempest,
which isn't possible unless there are optical mirrors in those locations,
clearly there aren't (science blooper).
- Chain Reaction (1996)
- A blue laser is used to enhance the yield of a 'cold-fusion-like' experiment which
is used to extract hydrogen from water via an apparently simple
process. The laser is switched on only after the acoustic energy has had a chance
to initiate a brilliant light emitting bubble in the water tank.
- Blown Away (1994)
- A bomb squad expert uses a small portable laser tool, a hi-tech wire stripper,
to melt the insulation from wiring. It resembles those commonly used as laser pointers.
- I-Man (1986, TV)
A laser weapon perforates a hole through a man with instantaneous
self-regenerative healing powers.
- Nothing to Lose (1997)
- Argon Ion Laser (8 watts), laser projector and
40 2x2 inch mirrors are used to produce a laser beam alarm. Cris
crossing blue/green laser beams reflect and pulse around in the room
while the alarm is activated. (Behind the scene, an optical table
with accuating mirrors reflect the laser through 50/50 beam splitters
and mirrors . The laser light is reflected and directed to the externaly
installed mirrors, that direct the final beam destination.)
(Reviewed by Jim McDaniel)
- Mission Impossible
- lasers as security sensors, breaking the beam triggers the alarm.
- Real Genius (1985)
- Whiz kids unwittingly develop a high power laser for the military.
A homebuilt laser is fired at an approaching spacecraft to assist in its propulsion.
- Outer Limits (episode)
- An ex-NASA employee contructs a makeshift laser, which
is fired from earth to prevent a damaged alien solar sail ship from
plummeting into the sun.
- Spies Like Us (1985)
- A Strategic Denfense Intiative (SDI) laser fails to
down a Russian missile. The beam was generated in a ground
based laser camouflaged as a drive-in theater. Orbital
mirrors attempt to relay the pulse to the missile however
there is a targeting problem and the pulse accidentally
destroys the MTV satellite instead. (this causes certain TV sets
tuned to that channel to blow up, to the delight of an
A powerful laser originaly designed to shoot down intercontinental ballistic missiles,
used instead against escaping rebels.
- The Last Chase (1981)
- In a futuristic society a race car driver and a teen computer whiz rebel.
The opressive government goes to great lengths to anihilate them, such as
attempting to destroy them with the aid of a strategic defence initiative laser.
The red laser is coaxial with a parabolic radar antenna probably for target
aquisition and tracking. The laser is presumbly one of many located in the
deserts because of the relatively higher number of clear days there.
(most lasers cannot penetrate the cloud cover).
- Terminator (1984)
- The terminator uses a conventional weapon equipped with
a laser targeting system which appears as a red spot on the
- Logan's Run (1976)
- lasers used for 'instant' plastic surgery in what looks like
a dentist chair.
- Earth Star Voyager (1988, TV)
- The orbital aphelion of a binary star system is
used to power a solar pumped laser to defend the crew
from pirates. This implies that the orbits of the
two stars are elliptical. To my knowledge, this is the only instance
in a movie of the construction and realisation of an
artificial stellar laser.
- Laser Moon (1992)
- Someone is killing women with a laser to the temple during the full moon
- Black Eagle (1988)
- CIA must salvage a laser guidance system from a US Air Force F-100 aircraft
which crashed into the sea near Malta.
- Stunts Unlimited (1980)
- Former US agent hires stunt men to recover a stolen laser gun.
- Raise the Titanic (1980)
- A rare mineral on board could be used to power a laser.
- Laser Mission (1990)
- Mercenary Gold is sent from the CIA to seize the laser expert Braun
- Murderers' Row (1966)
- Secret agent to track down a kidnapped scientist who invented the helium laser beam (powerful
enough to destroy a whole continent?).
Under Construction !
- Additional movie information links provided courtesy of the
The Internet Movie Database
- James Bond web sites (gadget, 'Q' etc...)
- Star Trek web sites (in particular science related sites)
Krauss, Lawrence M.: 1995, The Physics of Star Trek, BasicBooks.
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