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In memoriam: Theodore H. Maiman

Theodore H. Maiman passed away on 5 May 2007 in Vancouver after a long illness.

Maiman is credited with demonstrating the world's first working laser on 16 May 1960. Others had already started endeavoring to build lasers when Maiman decided to undertake the problem in mid-1959. He owed his achievement to an deep understanding of the properties of the material he used, synthetic ruby.

Born in Los Angeles in 1927, Maiman attended the University of Colorado and received a B.S. in engineering physics in 1949. He then went on to do graduate work at Stanford University, where he received an M.S. in electrical engineering in 1951 and a Ph.D. in physics in 1955.

Throughout his career, Maiman received many awards. A Fellow of SPIE, Maiman also received the SPIE President's Award in 1985. He was twice nominated for the Nobel Prize and was given membership in both National Academies of Science and Engineers. He was also a recipient of 1983/1984 Physics Prize, the same year he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Three years later he became laureate of the prestigious Japan Prize, the Asian equivalent of the Nobel Prize.

SPIE mourns the passing of a true pioneer. He is survived by his wife, Kathleen Heath Maiman, a stepdaughter, Cynthia Sanford, and a granddaughter. A memorial service is planned in Vancouver on May 16.

SPIE's OE Reports published an article in 2000 based on an interview with Dr. Maiman on the 40th anniversary of the laser's development (click headline below):

Inventing the light fantastic: Ted Maiman and the world's first laser