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Science Technology

The Laser Turns 50 74

Posted by Soulskill
from the many-happy-returns-of-the-day dept.
sonicimpulse writes with news that tomorrow is the 50th anniversary of physicist Theodore Maiman's creation of the first operational laser. "Theodore Maiman made the first laser operate on 16 May 1960 at the Hughes Research Laboratory in California, by shining a high-power flash lamp on a ruby rod with silver-coated surfaces. He promptly submitted a short report of the work to the journal Physical Review Letters, but the editors turned it down. Some have thought this was because the Physical Review had announced that it was receiving too many papers on masers — the longer-wavelength predecessors of the laser — and had announced that any further papers would be turned down. But Simon Pasternack, who was an editor of Physical Review Letters at the time, has said that he turned down this historic paper because Maiman had just published, in June 1960, an article on the excitation of ruby with light, with an examination of the relaxation times between quantum states, and that the new work seemed to be simply more of the same. Pasternack's reaction perhaps reflects the limited understanding at the time of the nature of lasers and their significance."
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The Laser Turns 50

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 15, 2010 @01:51PM (#32220896)

    almost.

  • I remember... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by stonewolf (234392) on Saturday May 15, 2010 @01:58PM (#32220938) Homepage

    I remember the first article I saw about the laser. I'm not sure if it is was in Popular Science or Scientific American, but I remember that it was described as a solution without a problem. For years after it was invented no one had any idea of what to do with the damn thing.

    Now, it seems like they are everywhere there is one in every CD, DVD, and Blue Ray drive. We use them to align everything along that nice straight line. We are testing laser laser weapons. We use them to remove hair and correct eyes. They are critical to many manufacturing processes including precision cutting. Not to mention the whole field of holography and holographic optical elements.

    But, It took many years for people to even start imagining what the thing was good for. And, even longer for the technology to get to where they could be used for practical applications. The history of the laser is a perfect study in how a really new idea develops into a useful technology. After 50 years we are only seeing the beginning of the application of the Laser.

    Got to love it.

    Stonewolf

  • by ciaohound (118419) on Saturday May 15, 2010 @02:04PM (#32220976)

    Thirteen freakin' years! [imdb.com] Pretty soon (as in right now?) we'll be bragging about seeing it in the theater in the same breath as saying "Get off my lawn!"

  • Re:I remember... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jtcampbell (199660) on Saturday May 15, 2010 @02:07PM (#32220994) Homepage

    I think the key innovation (from a consumer point of view) was the laser diode. Whilst some early laser disc players used gas lasers, it was the laser diode that enabled the CD player and all the other consumer electronics applications you describe.

  • Unsurprising (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Angst Badger (8636) on Saturday May 15, 2010 @02:10PM (#32221010)

    A lot of things that seem like interesting but irrelevant phenomena at the outset turn out to be tremendously important later; that's why pure science is so important, yet so hard to justify to short-sighted "results-oriented" people like your average congresscritter. Whether it's the integrated circuit or, for that matter, electricity itself, fundamental discoveries and inventions tend to precede their applications, often by decades. Later, when someone attempts to solve a particular practical problem, some previously unused discovery is picked up and used as part of the solution, and only then does its significance become apparent.

    It's a safe bet that fifty years from now, someone with a ten-digit Slashdot user ID will post a story about how clueless we were in 2010 about the earth-shattering importance of something few of us have heard of today except as a scientific curiosity. (And, no doubt, some of us who are still alive then will post thoughtful replies about obsolete technologies that will be immediately tagged "getoffmylawn" by younger folks.)

  • Re:I remember... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by chichilalescu (1647065) on Saturday May 15, 2010 @02:31PM (#32221164) Homepage Journal

    You have to realize that experimental physics needed lasers. for a lot of things (measurements suddenly got more precise).
    CDs are just an application of precise measurements.
    High speed internet is here because instead of radio waves we can use visible light (but the basic idea is still to send information through a wave).

    It is however true that it takes time to bring various pieces of information together, and mankind can probably still progress a lot just by being able to properly connect the dots that are already visible.

  • Re:Unsurprising (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Garble Snarky (715674) on Saturday May 15, 2010 @02:57PM (#32221286)
    Except in 50 years, they'll need a new phrase because the concept of a "lawn" will be as unfamiliar as say, rewinding cassette tapes, is today...
  • Re:Unsurprising (Score:4, Insightful)

    by tool462 (677306) on Saturday May 15, 2010 @04:03PM (#32221712)

    We still say "don't touch that dial", "turn down the volume", "dial the phone". Hell, we even say "rewind" when we mean we're seeking backwards in a DVD.

    In 50 years I look forward to being a grump saying "get off my lawn" when I really mean "get off that 2x2 slab of concrete I use for my barbeque."

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