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Advancing the Laser: 50 Years and Into the Future

The laser changed all our lives in the first 50 years following the first successful demonstration of the technology. SPIE pays tribute to the many scientistists and engineers who have made it happen.

Optical Engineering special sections: the latest advances and an historical celebration 

The laser's profound influence on every aspect of modern life and the many varieties of the technology are celebrated in a special section in the September 2010 issue of  the SPIE flagship journal, Optical Engineering, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the laser. Section editors are Gregory Quarles and Yehoshua Kalisky.

The accelerated pace of development of quantum cascade laser (QCL) technology and its many applications -- such as detecting explosive chemicals on clothing, monitoring greenhouse gases and measuring blood sugar levels via breath analysis -- are featured in a special section published in the November 2010 issue of the journal.

U.S. Naval Research Laboratory scientists Jerry Meyer and Igor Vurgaftman edited the special section on Quantum and Interband Cascade Lasers. An invited review paper from Federico Capasso, professor and senior research fellow at Harvard University and leader of the group who first demonstrated QCL technology 16 years ago at Bell Labs, is featured among the section's 26 papers detailing new advances in the field.

Lasers in medicine

The January 2011 issue of SPIE Professional features a comprehensive overview of "Lasers in Medicine."

Just a year after the laser was invented, Leon Goldman became the first researcher to use a laser to treat a human skin disease. His research also led to the application of the ruby laser in retinal surgery in the mid 1960s and to discoveries such as lasers being able to simultaneously cut skin and seal blood vessels to restrict bleeding.

In SPIE Professional, Rox Anderson (Wellman Center for Photomedicine at Harvard Univ.), Abraham Katzir (Tel Aviv Univ.), Leon Esterowitz (National Science Foundation), and James Fujimoto (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) describe the latest applications in dermatology, ophthalmology, surgery, urology, oncology, and other specialities.

Laser museum: a special display collected for the 50th anniversary

View a virtual museum of more than 100 vintage lasers in a traveling display organized by SPIE and shown at major laser conferences during the anniversary year as well as a semester-long celebration of the laser at Flandrau planetarium at the Univ. of Arizona.

video tour of laser museum with Jeff Hecht

Take an online video tour with laser expert and author Jeff Hecht of the display at SPIE Photonics West.

Open-access articles and features

  • Laser history and future process are featured in the quarterly member magazine SPIE Professional.

Free! Posters and DVDs

Request free posters or DVDs by email from Ms. Pascale Barnett at

Lasers: Illuminating the Future
Poster:"Lasers: Illuminating the Future." The laser's many uses stem from its unique properties. Learn how lasers have transformed our world. Available in English, French, and German.

Building Upon the Past/Advancing the Future
Poster: "Building upon the Past/Advancing into the Future." Celebrate laser history and advances with a representative photo tribute to some of the major scientists who have moved the technology forward.

Light in Action
DVD: "Light in Action: Lasers, Cameras & Other Cool Stuff"
Audience age: 9-11
Kids showing kids that science can be fun and exciting and that advancements with light are all around them.
View the Light in Action demonstrations:
   Pinhole camera experiment
   Bubble experiment
   Kaleidoscope experiment

Optics: Light at Work
DVD:"Optics: Light at Work"
Audience age: 12-13
Real world applications of optics technology, as well as, examples of "cool" new technology such as nanomedicine, space telescopes, invisibility, and solar energy.

Laser anniversary in the news

Laser blogroll

  • DoDLive DoDLive Bloggers Roundtable: AFOSR LaserFest features Howard Schlossberg, Air Forice Office of Scientific Research program manager, on the AFOSR LaserFest event in August.
  • Laser Diode-logues  Researchers at GE Global Research Laser and Metrology Labs are blogging in their new Laser Diode-logues Series to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the laser.
Advancing the Laser luminary tribute photos

Luminaries past and present

View a photo tribute to some of the laser pioneers and luminaries who have been involved in the invention and advancement of laser technology. (Space limitations do not allow inclusion of more than an arbitrary selection.)

The Advancing the Laser photo tribute was shown at 50 events in 15 countries during the anniversary year, and translated into 5 languages.

In their own words:
Video interviews with laser luminaries

Nearly 50 video interviews with laser pioneers and luminaries are presented in the SPIE Advancing the Laser Video Series.

Advancing the Laser video series

SPIE: Founding Partner and Sponsor of LaserFest

Through community-based events and programs, LaserFest helped to showcase the prominence of the laser in today's world.

SPIE joined other LaserFest Founding Partners in funding grants for laser outreach in schools and communities, providing a wide variety of opportunities for students, policy makers, and other non-scientists to learn more about laser technology.