424. How does a laser diode work?
A laser diode resembles a light emitting diode, in which electrons flowing across a p-n junction (in a diode) find themselves in conduction levels of the p semiconductor, with lots of excess energy. These excited electrons give up their excess energy by emitting light and they drop down into empty valence levels with much less energy. In a laser diode, the region in which this energy release occurs is a very narrow channel with mirrored ends. Instead of emitting their light spontaneously, the electrons experience stimulated emission. Light bounces back and forth between the ends of the channel and is amplified as it passes new excited electrons. Because all of the light produced by a laser diode emerges from one end of this very narrow channel, it experiences severe diffraction and spreads out into a wide, cone-shaped beam. To convert this cone of light into a narrow beam, a converging lens is usually attached to the diode laser's housing and this lens bends the beam into a fine pencil of light. Most laser diodes operate in the red or infrared portion of the spectrum, although some laser diodes that emit blue light have recently been developed.