I'm skipping most the details so no need to inquire -- I have finished my first year of grad school in physics and am not going to join a group until the first quarter of next year. Until then I will be taking classes and teaching; in the summer I only do the latter. I don't have qualifiers to worry about (just yet) but I am impatient and want to start doing something with my time other than read books and studying. So, I would like to build something.. The field I am going into has a high concentration on fast lasers, so my first thought was: build a laser. I know how they work in theory, but building one would cause me to gain a whole new technical perspective (I'm going into experimental, by the way). There are of course a number of problems associated with this goal, namely speaking cost and safety. I am a grad student, and as I'm sure you are all aware my income cannot support anything too exorbitant (looking to spend no more than a grand or so). It is not difficult to make a powerful laser, just cannibalize the diode from a dvd-rw or a blu-ray and place it in a housing. However, I do not wish to go blind. The same goes for gas lasers. Another option would be to make an external cavity diode laser, however again cost becomes an issue. I can manufacture the device since I have access to the machine shop, but the diode and grating might be hard to come by. And not to mention the PZT; I would not be able to afford one. So, I am looking for ideas, thoughts, feedback, critiques, hugs, etc. If you have any ideas let me know. As far as my expertise, I am very good at drafting (mainly in AutoCAD) and simulations as well as programming. I have experience in EE and CompE specifically with microcontrollers. I am well trained on mechanical equipment and have lots of fancy tools available to me. I also am very capable with labview, arduino, surface mounted soldering, etc. I know some about glassblowing but I know someone in the department who would help me. Thoughts?