The Laser’s First Light:
Trends and Highlights from May 1960
We all know that May 1960 brought us the first demonstration
of the laser … but what else happened that month?
An American U- 2 high-altitude spy plane
was shot down over the Soviet Union, but
pilot Francis Gary Powers survived. Bad
feelings over the incident led to the collapse of summit talks in Paris when Soviet
leader Nikita Khrushchev left the gathering on May 16. OSA’s 1960 President,
James G. Baker, designed the optics and
most of the cameras flown on the U- 2.
Topping the popular U.S. and
U.K. music charts: “Stuck on You”
by Elvis Presley.
Scientists from around
the world gathered at the
University of Heidelberg
in Germany to celebrate
the birth of chemical
spectroscopy 100 years
previously. Robert Bunsen
and Gustav Kirchho; had
collaborated at that institution to show that spectral
lines are the unique fingerprints of heated elements.
;e May 1960 conference
featured invited talks from
the world’s leading spectroscopists, plus
“beer breaks” among the apple blossoms.
Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita won
the prestigious Palm d’Or prize at the
Cannes Film Festival in France.
A small musical show called
;e Fantasticks opened in an o;-Broadway theater in New York. It starred
Jerry Orbach …
in the days before
his name triggered
the Law & Order
sound e;ect in
making it the
Paul Hewson was born in Dublin,
Ireland, six days before the first laser.
Better known as Bono, he later sported
240 diode lasers on his jacket while on a
2009 tour with his band, U2.
;e most powerful earthquake ever
recorded (magnitude 9. 5) struck coastal
Chile and created a tsunami that devastated Hilo, Hawaii, and hit Japan and the
Philippines. ;e temblor was more than
11 times as powerful as the March 2010
;e May 1960 issue of Popular Science
featured the “Skyjector,” a cannon-
sized light projector. Swiss inventor
Michael Schwabacher claimed it
could display an image or advertising
message on a cloud or mountainside
up to 5 miles ( 8 km) away. Schwa-
bacher declined to reveal the nature
of its light source to ;e New Yorker,
although a diesel generator supposedly
powered the source to above 10,000° F.
Pat Daukantas ( email@example.com) is the senior
writer/editor for Optics & Photonics News.