Tripping the Laser Fantastic:
A Look Back at LaserFest 2010
As our global celebration of the birth of the laser ends, OSA Past President Tom Baer reflects
on the year’s events and festivities—and the 50 years of laser history that preceded them.
In less than 50 milliseconds, 50 years ago, a simple but elegant device made
from off-the-shelf components changed
the world. A button was pushed, discharging a capacitor; then a flash lamp
fired and chromium atoms absorbed
visible light; finally, ruby red photons
bounced off silver end mirrors, and a
single red spot flashed for an instant on
the wall, revealing hitherto unexplored
properties of light.
Theory to experiment to feasibility:
proof of the first man-made laser. But in
1960, the first question on peoples’ minds
was: What was it good for? This novel
phenomenon, born out of fundamental
curiosity in a cauldron of competition and
creativity, appeared to solve no pressing
world problems. However, even without a
clear raison d’être, the first demonstration
by Theodore Maiman, C.K. Asawa and
I.J. D’Haenens at Hughes Research Lab-
oratories presented exhilarating challeng-
es and tremendous possibilities to those
of us in the field of optics. During 2010,
the 50 year mark, the optics community
The first demonstration
by Theodore Maiman,
C.K. Asawa and I.J.
D’Haenens at Hughes
challenges and tremendous possibilities to those
of us in the field of optics.
took part in a yearlong celebration called
LaserFest, which commemorated this
amazing journey of discovery.
The idea for LaserFest was sparked
at OSA by a desire to recognize the
accomplishments of distinguished laser
pioneers. It quickly gained support from
the American Physical Society (APS),
SPIE and the IEEE Photonics Society.
United as co-founders, these scientific
societies, in an unprecedented coali-
tion, set the tone for an enthusiastic
year-long celebration. Partners and
sponsors throughout the world ranged
from corporations, universities, research
institutes, government agencies, founda-
tions and private individuals. All joined
together to host and sponsor LaserFest
events located on many continents and
in dozens of countries.
12 | OPN Optics & Photonics News