Monochromaticity, Narrow Spectral Width and High Temporal & Spatial Coherence

A laser is a device that emits light through a process of optical amplification based on stimulated emission of electromagnetic radiation. A laser has high monochromaticity, narrow spectral width and high temporal coherence. These three qualities are interrelated, as will be shown.

Monochromaticity is a term for a system, particularly in relation to light that references a constant frequency and wavelength. With the understanding that color is a result of frequency and wavelength, a monochromatic system also means that a single color is selected. A good laser will have only one output wavelength and frequency, typically referred to in relation to the wavelength (i.e. 1500 nanometer wavelength, 870 nanometer wavelength).

A monochromatic system, made of only one frequency ideally is a single sinusoid function. A constant frequency sinusoid plotted in the frequency domain will have a line width approaching zero.


The time τ that the wave behaves as a perfect sinusoid is related to the spectral line width. If the sinusoid takes an infinite time domain presence, the spectral line width is zero. The frequency domain plot in this scenario is a perfect pulse.

If two frequencies are present in the time domain, the system is not monochromatic, which violates one of the principles of a perfect laser.


Temporal Coherence is essentially a different perspective of the same relation present between monochromaticity and narrow spectral width. Coherence is the ability to predict the value of a system. Temporal coherence means that, given information related to the time of the system, the position or value of the system should be predictable. Given a sinousoid with a long time domain presence, the value of the sinusoid will be predictable given a time value. This is one condition of a proper laser.

Spatial coherence takes a value of distance as a given. If the system is highly spatially coherent, the value of the system at a certain distance should predictable. This point is also a condition of a proper laser. This is also one differentiating point between a laser and an LED, since an LED’s light propagation direction is unpredictable at a certain time and certainly not in a certain distance. Light emitted from the LED may travel at any angle at any time. An LED does not produce coherent light; the Laser does.

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