Bigger Isn't Always Better in Optical Physics | Optical Materials, Components and Systems for Semiconductors | Corning

How Light Manipulates Matter

How Light Manipulates Matter

Corning’s scientists work with lasers to determine how light can affect materials.

At Corning, optical physics is part of almost everything we do. It’s in the fiber we use to connect people and places around the globe, and in the displays that make everything from your TV to your phone easier to see. Often, we focus on the ways that we can manipulate materials so that they interact with light in a certain way.

For instance, in fiber, we’re making glass that allows light to travel through it while losing as little as possible. In displays, we’re trying to make images that are crisp and clear.

In some of our applications, though, we study the way that light interacts with materials, instead of the other way around. With lasers, that’s precisely what we do.

Corning works with lasers to perform a variety of tasks on the glass that we manufacture. Our research teams focus their work on studying glass manipulation and determining which tasks lasers can complete that other technologies may be unable to. Because laser manipulation is an invisible, contactless process where no force is applied, it can also be much more precise. Everything from cutting to drilling to welding can be accomplished using lasers.

Cutting is exactly what it sounds like. It involves taking large pieces of glass and shaping them into smaller sizes. Lasers do this quickly. The beam of light is shot through the entire sheet of glass at once, and the laser creates millions of tiny holes along the edge of the glass. Much like the perforations on a paper towel, these tiny holes make it much easier to break the glass along that pre-defined line. From there, the glass is heated along this line by a second laser, which helps it break.

Lasers are especially useful for cutting thin glass sheets, as well as chemically strengthened glasses which are difficult to cut mechanically. When cut mechanically, strengthened glass doesn’t separate uniformly. Because laser cutting happens almost instantaneously, the glass doesn’t have time to react in the same way. Instead, it cuts along the lines marked by the laser. Lasers also offer more options for shaping the glass than mechanical methods of cutting, allowing for curvatures and other design variations, such as for parts like those used in smart watches or on phone screens.

Laser drilling also allows for much greater levels of precision than are possible mechanically. When creating millions of perforations in glass wafers, which are used in the manufacturing of semiconductors, precision is essential for both the size of the holes and their positions. These perforations must be precise to within microns, which makes it a perfect fit for lasers, and an impossible task for mechanical processes.

In addition to precision, lasers require minimal maintenance or replacement. Mechanical parts can wear down or break over time, and this can result in inconsistency as the part ages. That’s not the case with lasers, where no part of the apparatus contacts the glass itself. Lasers are also highly automated, which means they can run constantly with little or no supervision and can process glass faster as a result.

Lasers are an integral part of Corning’s work in optical physics, no matter what application they’re being used for. The interactions between light and matter are at the core of Corning’s research and technology. In working with lasers, Corning has applied its expertise in optical physics to make the properties of light into an asset instead of a challenge.