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SPIE celebrates laser 50th anniversary at Maiman conference and public displays around the world

14 May 2010

BELLINGHAM, Washington, USA, and VANCOUVER, British Columbia, Canada -- SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs will join the wife of Theodore Maiman and other colleagues to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Maiman's invention of the first laser, at a commemorative conference at Simon Fraser University (SFU) this weekend.Theodore Maiman, left, with SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs

Maiman, who on 16 May 1960 won the race to build the first functioning laser, taught at the Vancouver, Canada, university before his death in 2007. The Maiman archives are housed at SFU. They include the original laser, which will be activated in a rare demonstration during the SFU conference.

In addition to Arthurs and Kathleen Maiman, speakers at Laser Celebration 2010 will include Univ. Ottawa/National Research Council professor Paul Corkum; Univ. di Roma 'La Sapienza' professor and author of The History of the Laser Mario Bertolotti; laser medicine pioneer Stephen Joffe, CEO of LCA-Vision, Cincinnati; laser medicine biophysicist Rudolph Steiner of the Univ. of Ulm; Edward Moses, director of the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore (California) National Lab; and others whose cutting-edge work represents the far-reaching beneficial capabilities of the laser.

"In truth, the celebration belongs to the entire scientific community, as the invention of the laser resulted from efforts of researchers around the world," Arthurs said. "The laser grew from ideas published by Albert Einstein while at the Univ. of Berlin, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921. Along the way, there have been important contributions from researchers in many countries."

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. SPIE has deep roots in laser research. Approximately 68,000 technical papers containing the world "laser" are available in the SPIE Digital Library.

Highlights of the Advancing the Laser: 50 Years and Into the Future tribute include a 100-piece historical equipment display and a timeline and luminary photo tribute. Both were developed for SPIE Photonics West in January and are traveling to numerous other laser celebrations this year.

A large historical laser display is being organized by SPIE in conjunction with a LaserFest Symposium at CLEO/QELS in San Jose, California, this week and will be shown at SPIE Optics + Photonics in San Diego, California, during the first week of August. It can also be seen online in a virtual laser museum.

The photo displays have been featured at SPIE meetings in Brussels, Orlando, and San Jose since their debut in San Francisco, and will also be at Optics + Photonics. They have also appeared at LaserFest events in Washington, D.C., are part of the CLEO/QELS event this week, and will be shown at laser celebrations in Paris, Munich, Garching, Pretoria, Aachen, Stuttgart, Firenze, St. Petersburg, Southampton, and London. A selection of the photos may be seen online.

A series of new video interviews with top laser researchers looking into the future as well as with laser pioneers is being produced as well, with new videos released each week throughout the year.

The laser anniversary is receiving high-level recognition in the U.S. This week, President Barack Obama issued a message to SPIE commending "scientists and engineers whose ingenuity and contributions to laser science and technology have helped make the laser one of the most important and versatile inventions of the 20th century. Such achievements inspire the next generation of students and tinkerers to pursue careers as scientists and engineers."

Last week, the House of Representatives passed a resolution recognizing the anniversary, as well as the need for continued support of scientific research. The resolution called the laser "one of the ground-breaking scientific achievements of the 20th century," and noted the economic impact of lasers, expected to be nearly $6 billion in sales globally this year.

Photo caption: Theodore Maiman, left, and Eugene Arthurs during a 2000 OE Reports interview.

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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