The color was unlike anything we had ever seen before—
extraordinarily brilliant and totally saturated with a strange
speckle-like appearance that we later
learned was associated with the coherence properties of laser light.
After a few minutes, the discharge
became erratic, and it seemed that the
tube was on the verge of failing. I shouted
down to Darwin Perry on the floor below
to come up quickly and witness the lasing
before the tube died. Later, he told us
that he thought someone had been badly
injured because of the urgency in my voice.
A minute or two later, the tube went
dead, but not before all of us had seen
it lase. It was the first continuous visible
laser, and we were the first three people on
earth to witness it. Nowadays, of course, with hundreds of different visible spectral lines lasing, our experience that evening
At the time, we felt a continuous visible laser was an impor-
tant development, but its true significance didn’t sink in until
a day or so later after we made a new tube with higher power.
It produced a much brighter and more stable beam that could
be projected hundreds of feet down the hall with very little
spreading from diffraction. People came in from all over the
lab to see the bright new red laser beam. Unlike the pulsed
ruby laser beam, this beam could be studied and used in the
laboratory with little hazard. The reward for our discovery
came rather quickly; within days we were given carte blanche
to explore the red HeNe to the fullest with
a budget to match.
A few minutes later, the
tube went dead, but
not before we had seen
it lase. It was the first
continuous visible laser,
and we were the first
three people on earth
to witness it.
I would like to acknowledge the help of J.C. Monroe, my writer
friend, in the preparation of this manuscript.
Alan D. White ( email@example.com) retired from Bell Labs in
1983. He lives in Berkeley Heights, N.J., U.S.A. Member
[ References and Resources ]
>> J.P. Gordon et al. Phys. Rev. 95, 282 (1954).
>> A.L. Schawlow and C.H. Townes. Phys. Rev. 112, 1940 (1958).
>> T.H. Maiman. Nature 187, 493 (1960).
>> A. Javan et al. Phys. Rev. Lett. 6, 106 (1961).