I've wanted to build a TEA laser for a while now, and I've finally gotten the parts and the time. Here is the building process along with everything else useful I've found for building your own laser.
First, the necessary disclaimer:
I am not responsible for you, or anything you do. If you hurt yourself I may offer you condolences, but please don't try to sue me for anything.
If you follow the safety advice given and use common sense, you should be fine.
Also, I am obviously not the first person to come up with this idea. The sources I've used the most are:
Nyle Steiner's pages (http://www.sparkbangbuzz.com/tealaser/tealaser7.htm)
The Joss Research Institute (http://www.jossresearch.org/lasers/),
Sam's Laser FAQ (http://www.repairfaq.org/sam/lasercn2.htm),
The Professor's Homebuilt Lasers website (http://www.repairfaq.org/sam/lasercn2.htm), and
Before following this instrucable, it would probably be a good idea to look at some of these excellent resources.
Step 1: Before you start...
What is a TEA laser?
In short, TEA stands for Transversely Exited Atmospheric pressure laser. While a true nitrogen TEA laser uses a nearly pure nitrogen environment at atmospheric pressure as a lasing medium, the laser I built uses plain old air which has enough nitrogen in it to lase. A TEA laser works by using high-voltage coronal discharge to excite nitrogen in the channel between the electrodes to the point at which it lases. For more details, a good explanation can be found here: http://188.8.131.52/people/mcsele/lasers/Mechanism.htm (The Professor's Homebuilt Lasers Site).
Why build a TEA laser?
Other than the self-satisfaction of having built a laser, there are a handful of ways to motivate yourself. For one, building this laser can acquaint you with skills that are useful in other parts of life. Doing projects like this one forces you to think in a creative way and learn to solve different problems. Even learning to work safely with high voltage electricity can be a stepping stone to other more interesting projects.
This particular type of laser can be built with stuff you have lying around at home, and it doesn't require special tools or skills to build. The only part that was tricky to get was the power supply, which I'll cover in a subsequent step.
These are all the questions that my tired brain could come up with. Feel free to submit your own and I will try my best to answer them.