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Happy anniversary to the laser: life-changing technology at 50 years

13 May 2010

BELLINGHAM, Washington, USA -- The first laser was small enough to hold in the palm of your hand. But in the 50 years since Theodore Maiman successfully built and fired the first laser, the technology has made enormous changes in the way we live our lives. This Sunday marks the golden anniversary of the invention that kicked off a major industry and paved the way for numerous life-enhancing advances.Viewing the laser luminary display at SPIE Photonics West

Laser technology enables the internet, personal computers and PDAs, new cancer treatments, restored vision, exploration of deep space, solar and other clean energy production, non-invasive detection and treatment of malaria and other diseases, CD and DVD players, manufacture of all sort of items with unparalleled precision, and much more.

A laser emits beams of just one of the many wavelengths that occur in natural light. Multiple varieties of lasers have been developed, each working with different wavelengths of light with different intensities and properties, enabling numerous, varied uses.

The laser anniversary is receiving high-level recognition. Yesterday, U.S. President Barack Obama issued a message to SPIE commending scientists and engineers whose work led to the invention and further advancement of the laser. Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution recognizing the anniversary, as well as the need for continued support of scientific research.

Observances this Sunday will mark the date that Maiman and colleague Irnee D'Haenens excited a pink ruby and saw a spot of red light on the wall of their lab.

Simon Fraser University (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada) is sponsoring Laser Celebration 2010 to honor Maiman, who taught at SFU before his death in 2007. The event will feature a rare live demonstration of the original device, and is cosponsored by SPIE.

Other anniversary celebrations on Sunday will include a LaserFest symposium in San Jose, California, and a gathering at HRL Labs, the former Hughes Research Labs in Malibu, California, where Maiman built and fired the laser.

SPIE has been celebrating laser technology all year, through its Advancing the Laser tribute and as a Founding Partner of LaserFest, a collaboration among the scientific community.

Share in the celebration and learn more about a technology that touches nearly every aspect of modern life:

  • View a virtual laser museum including a model of the first laser. The museum was first exhibited at SPIE Photonics West in January in San Francisco, and includes nearly 100 pieces dating from 1960 through the present. Many of the pieces also will be shown at SPIE Optics and Photonics in San Diego, California, 1-5 August, and next week at CLEO/QELS in San Jose, California.
  • Hear laser history lore and prospects for future use from the experts themselves, in the SPIE Advancing the Laser Video Series. New this week: Mike Dunne contends that science is in a "golden age of laser development." Dunne, Director of the UK Science and Technology photon science group and leader of the European High Power Laser Energy Research (HiPER) facility, announced this week that he will move to the National Ignition Facility, where the world's largest laser project is working on producing energy through fusion. Nobel Laureates Charles Townes and Nicolaas Bloembergen are among others featured in the series. New videos are being added weekly throughout the anniversary year.
  • See slides from a photo tribute honoring laser pioneers and luminaries, originally built for SPIE Photonics West and subsequently adapted and shown at other SPIE meetings in Belgium and in California and Florida in the USA, and at other events in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere. The display will also be shown at laser celebrations in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the USA, and is on long-term display at CREOL, The College of Optics and Photonics, University of Central Florida.
  • Download free posters and DVDs about laser technology as well as open-access technical and feature articles on the Advancing the Laser website.
  • Find a LaserFest event informational or educational event or activity near you via the celebration website. Projects are funded through grants to LaserFest from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy, or directly by the four LaserFest founding partners (SPIE, IEEE Photonics Society, American Physical Society, and Optical Society) with the support of approximately 80 other LaserFest Partners and Sponsors.

Among projects funded by $51,000 in LaserFest grants from SPIE are a traveling laser science show produced by faculty at the University of Newcastle, Australia; laser camps for kids presented by Three Rivers Community College, Connecticut, USA; and laser shows for elementary school children in New Jersey, USA, provided by Laser Guy Productions.

SPIE , the international society for optics and photonics, was founded in 1955 to advance light-based technologies. Serving more than 188,000 constituents from 138 countries, the Society advances emerging technologies through interdisciplinary information exchange, continuing education, publications, patent precedent, and career and professional growth. SPIE annually organizes and sponsors approximately 25 major technical forums, exhibitions, and education programs in North America, Europe, Asia, and the South Pacific, and supports scholarships, grants, and other education programs around the world. In Europe, SPIE supports the optics and photonics community by acting as an advocate and liaison to political and industry associations.

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