May 7, 2010

50 Years of Laser

1960, exactly 50 years ago, is officially the year when the laser was born. At that year, Theodore Harold Maiman constructed the first working ruby laser at Hughes Research Laboratories in the USA. Although the historical paper

[1] Maiman, T.H., "Stimulated Optical Radiation in Rubi", Nature 187, 493-494 (1960)

published on the 6th of August has only one author, I would think that he probably had a team to construct it and did not do everything alone. About the paper, you can find a nice excerpt written by the other laser pioneer Charles H. Townes, which actually won a Nobel Prize for it, named The First Laser.

In Towner's excerpt, you can read the famous quote about the laser as being a "solution looking for a problem". The meaning is not that nobody was thinking about possible applications, but that the applications were not the objective of the research. This idea seems heretical today, researching without practical objective?, but that is only a consequence of the New Dark Age mentality that is becoming stronger each day. I will write a future post about that soon, but just look around today and see how your life would be without the laser before criticising pure research, although I know that this advice will unfortunately be just ignored by most people...

Back to good things, the festivities include Physics World giving a sample copy of its commemorative issue on the 50 years of the laser on their webpage: Physics World magazine: May 2010 special issue and New Scientist publishing a cool picture gallery about the subject with the first photo being the one I put above, which is from the first laser taken by Kathleen Maiman (which surely must be a realtive of  Theodore, but I am not sure at what level). The Nobel Prize foundation also has special pages about the laser called Laser Facts. And finally, there is also an editorial in Nature about the laser: Laser-guided impact.

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