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Letter: When lasers are used as weapons

Aerial view of International Arrivals Terminal 4 at

Aerial view of International Arrivals Terminal 4 at John F. Kennedy International Airport on March 30, 2012. Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin

As a physicist who regularly uses high-powered lasers in my research, I was deeply concerned and saddened to read of yet another incident involving an effort to blind a pilot or co-pilot in the air, in the hope of causing a crash ["FAA probes LI laser flash into cockpit," News, July 18].

Lasers are ubiquitous and are used by doctors, engineers, machinists, librarians and cashiers, among many others. They also form the bedrock of our modern optically based communication, DVD and CD technology.

Though laser pointers are mostly low power, less than 5 milliwatts, that power is concentrated into a very narrow beam that can cause permanent blindness if focused onto the optic nerve. In the best case, it causes temporary blindness. In either case, the goal is to distract and prevent the pilot from performing his or her duties in flying the plane.

Lasers must be used with utmost caution. The public must be more educated in the safe use of lasers and should demand the highest possible punishment for those who attempt to use these easily obtained instruments as weapons. They should also be banned for sale to minors.

Michael Pravica, Las Vegas

Editor's note: The writer is an associate professor of physics at the University of Nevada.

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