We've been playing with a blue laser at 461 nm in the lab lately. If tuned to just the right frequency (wavelength) neutral Strontium atoms will strongly absorb the laser light. Shortly (5 nanoseconds) after that the atoms emit at 461nm also, allowing us to see them:
The atoms originate from a hot "oven" at the right. It glows dark red because it's heated by driving a 5 A to 7 A current through it. The cloud of absorbing atoms glows at 461nm in the centre of the picture.
We can scan the laser frequency by adjusting the current through the diode-laser that produces the light. If the frequency is too low or too high we'll see nothing as the light will just pass through the cloud of atoms without interacting. On each side of the correct absorption frequency we'll see different parts of the atom cloud light up. This happens because the atoms stream out of the oven in slightly different directions, so they experience a different Doppler shift and will react to light with a wavelength slightly to the blue or red from the centre of the absorption-line at 461nm.
When slowly scanning the laser frequency over the absorption-line we got these nice videos. One with a narrow beam and one where the laser beam was expanded.
These were shot with a Canon DSLR so be sure to view them in HD on youtube!
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