LASER Technology: 50 Years Young

50 years ago, Theodore H. Maiman, a physicist at Hughes Laboratory in Malibu, California, tapped a reservoir of unfathomable technological opportunity that would rapidly sustain the scientific community for decades to come. In firing the world’s first coherent beam of monochromatic, visible light on May 16, 1960, Maiman became the harbinger of a new era in scientific research.

Maiman’s laser was undoubtedly a quandary to leaders in his field; built on a $50,000 budget, a nine-month timeframe, and a steadfast faith in experimental physics to question conventional wisdom, the first laser relied on a ruby rod as an excitation medium, which, at the time, had been tacitly dismissed as a material in which ions could be sufficiently excited.

Today, lasers utilize a number of different lasing mediums, and find their necessity in applications ranging on the figuratively “infinitesimal” order of optical tweezing in microscopic biological systems, to the infinite order of probing swathes of spacetime fabric described by the remarkable gravity of general relativity. Although Maiman did not receive a Nobel Prize for his indispensible contribution to science and technology, his legacy is ingrained in most modern innovations—from laser printers to biomedical imaging devices, fiber-optic sensors to light shows.

As expressed by The Globe and Mail—British Columbia, “Yes, lasers guide military missiles; but the beams from small laser pointers also make excellent cat toys.” Hence, the grand pervasiveness and multiplicity of laser use that is and will be in the 20th century and beyond.

Happy 50th Anniversary to Laser technology.

--Lara Ansari