Laser Pointers

Laser pointers are intended for use by speakers during lectures or presentations. As a high-tech alternative to the retractable, metal pointer, the laser pointer beam will produce a small dot of light on a target. Pointer-like devices are also used in laser alignment, construction, industrial manufacturing and automotive repair, and as aiming devices for firearms.

 The apparent brightness of a spot from a laser beam depends on the optical power of the laser, the reflectivity of the surface, and the chromatic response of the human eye. For the same optical power, green laser light will seem brighter than other colors because the human eye is most sensitive at low-light levels in the green region of the spectrum (wavelength 520–570 nm). Sensitivity decreases for red or blue wavelengths. 

Direct beam exposure from a laser pointer can injure unprotected eyes. Even low power lasers can cause glare, flash-blindness, and after-image effects when used improperly. Injuries resulting from aiming a laser pointer directly into a person's eye are well documented. 

If aimed at a person's eyes, laser pointers can cause temporary disturbances to vision. There is some evidence of rare, minor, permanent harm, but low-powered laser pointers are not seriously hazardous to health. They may be a major annoyance in some circumstances: A dot of light from a red laser pointer could be confused a laser gun sight, causing panic and possible injury. When pointed at aircraft at night, laser pointers may dazzle and distract pilots, and increasingly strict laws have been passed to ban this. See the links below for news articles about the arrest and conviction of people who have misused a laser pointer.

Iowa State University allows the use of Class 2 and Class 3A/R laser pointers without prior approval. The use of Class 3B and Class 4 laser pointers requires the approval of the Laser Safety Officer.  

Students, staff, faculty, contractors, and visitors are expected to operate lasers safely in campus living/learning spaces,offices, public areas, and outdoors.

Laser Pointer Safety

Follow these guidelines for the safe operation of laser pointers:

  • Know your target
  • Never aim a laser pointer at a person, at an animal, or into a building through windows or doors
  • Never view a laser beam through an optical instrument, such as binoculars, a microscope, or a magnifying glass
  • Do not aim a laser pointer at a shiny, mirror-like reflective surface
  • Do not aim a laser pointer at aircraft, buses or automobiles
  • Do not purchase or use an unlabeled laser pointer

Contact the Laser Safety Officer at (515) 294-5359 for further information.