The Laser 1960-2010
Fifty years ago this month, physicist Theodore Maiman and his colleagues ucceeded in making the first laser work at Hughes Research Laboratories in
Malibu, Calif., U.S.A. And five years before that, Charles Townes and his team laid
the groundwork for that breakthrough when they published their pioneering work in
Physical Review about a new type of microwave amplifier called the maser.
At that time, none of these researchers could have imagined how much lasers would
transform science and society over the next half-century. Our features this month
seek to acknowledge the laser’s rich history, its dynamic present, and its endlessly
The laser was not produced by a single person or group in an ivory tower. Like
its applications, its developers are diverse and manifold. Its story is the story of a
Ph.D. student in search of a thesis (p. 34). It is the tale about a time when industrial
laboratories were leading innovators in optics research (p. 20). It is an account of
a fiery female postdoc (and, later, OSA’s 1993 President) who took a break from
her research to become a laser artist (p. 42). And it is the unfolding story of how
computing, communications and optics are slowly integrating into the single force
that could power the next part of the Information Age (p. 28).
The story of the laser is their story—and yours.