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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 Interoperable (1651953) on Saturday May 15, 2010 @01:40PM (#32220810)
    You're a good friend and I wish you all the best for the future.
  • by sznupi (719324) on Saturday May 15, 2010 @01:43PM (#32220826) Homepage

    Still no succesful integration with friggin' sharks... :(

  • by siphbowl (1220872) on Saturday May 15, 2010 @01:46PM (#32220846)
    ..but I suppose we do have hi-def films, DVDs, CDs, cutting tools, holograms, spectroscopy, acne cures, hair removal, LIDAR, surgical tools and the barcode scanner. Which almost makes up for it.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      almost.

    • by NicknamesAreStupid (1040118) on Saturday May 15, 2010 @02:54PM (#32221266)
      Don't forget those nifty light sabers, phasers (where the light comes out so slowly you can watch it move to its target just as Captain Kirk dodges it), and my favorite -- Laser Eyes by Zozobra. It totally rocks!
    • by Blakey Rat (99501)

      It would be quite a challenge to make a laser-based death ray that performs as well as our current chemical-based death-dealing devices-- if you could make a battery to effectively supply a laser pistol, and weighs as much or less as the equivalent cordite, I sure as hell want one of those in my cellphone.

      • by sznupi (719324)

        Don't presently best batteries have energy densities comparable to many explosives already?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by ar1550 (544991)

      Yes, but aside from hi-def films, DVDs, CDs, cutting tools, holograms, spectroscopy, acne cures, hair removal, LIDAR, surgical tools and the barcode scanner, what has the laser ever done for us?

    • That's the laser I actually use the most... Even though I run a microscopy lab that uses all kinds of lasers (Ar, He, He-Ne, dye, also two femtosecond titanium:sapphire lasers).
  • Hey laser (Score:5, Funny)

    by gooman (709147) on Saturday May 15, 2010 @01:47PM (#32220852) Journal

    It's amazing, you don't look a day ove....

    Oww, my eye!

    • by ScrewMaster (602015) on Saturday May 15, 2010 @01:50PM (#32220888)

      It's amazing, you don't look a day ove....

      Oww, my eye!

      Which no doubt spawned the usual "Do not look into laser beam with remaining eye" warning.

    • by Sponge Bath (413667) on Saturday May 15, 2010 @02:12PM (#32221024)

      I had a laser shot into my eye to reduce a blister on my retina (central serous retinopathy). It was all high tech, except they need to keep your head still while they press this apparatus against your eye. They had a frame to press your face against, but I could not hold myself still while they did that. The doctor supplemented the laser with a gorilla like nurse to pin my head to the frame with his hands.

      Not the most dignified procedure, but it worked.

    • I gotta wear (ANSI Z 136 compliant) shades...
  • 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

    • 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.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      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

    • Yes, I remember reading an article (I think it was in Time magazine) that described lasers as "a solution in search of a problem."
      • by treeves (963993)

        Well I guess it found a few, huh?
        Construction levels
        Tattoo removal
        Drilling through printed circuit boards
        LASIK
        LIDAR
        amusing cats and their owners
        LASERIUM
        office printers
        lithography
        showing someone where a celestial object is
        particle counters
        inertial confinement nuclear fusion

    • 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

      To be fair, the LASER was a relatively small modification to the MASER. Both work on the same principle, the LASER just produces a slightly different range of EM. The original paper describing a LASER called it an Optical MASER. The really clever part was inventing the MASER, the LASER was an incremental improvement. The basic premise has been used with a lot of non-microwave, non-visible, EM too. At the time, a MASER that produced optical light was not seen as especially useful, while ones that produc

      • by whitesea (1811570)

        To be fair, the LASER was a relatively small modification to the MASER. Both work on the same principle, the LASER just produces a slightly different range of EM. The original paper describing a LASER called it an Optical MASER. The really clever part was inventing the MASER, the LASER was an incremental improvement. The basic premise has been used with a lot of non-microwave, non-visible, EM too. At the time, a MASER that produced optical light was not seen as especially useful, while ones that produce microwaves were (and still are) useful for line-of-sight communication over long distances.

        Don't forget Einstein, Fabrikant, Prokhorov and Basov http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laser#History [wikipedia.org]. Every invention has many parents, even if the person who took the last step gets all the credit.

    • by mangu (126918)

      The first article I read about the laser was in National Geographic, in 1966 or 67.

      I don't remember this "solution without a problem" thing, if I remember right, that article was full of the promises of wonderful applications for the laser.

    •   You can buy laser pointers for a buck or two at a lot of 'dollar' stores, now.

        It escapes me how they make money on the things, considering that batteries for them are usually 2-3 bucks retail, but wth, the cats love'em ;-) I have a couple dozen of the danged things in a box on a shelf in the closet, with shapes ranging from bullets to dicks to lipstick containers. Ah, the wonders of modern overseas manufacturing.

      SB

  • "a solution looking for a problem."

    Found some.

  • Curiously fitting that I'm just back from one leg of a tour of a modern dance piece using Ableton, MaxMSP, Arduino, Python and Lasers.

    Pix: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cassiel-com/sets/72157622557842760/ [flickr.com]

  • 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: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Garble Snarky (715674)
      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...
      • 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...

        "You kids get off my minefield and out of my clear-fire zone!"

      • 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."

      • by PPH (736903)

        In 50 years, they'll still be bitching about not having flying cars.

        And the geezers will be yelling at kids to stay off their 4chan.

      • I think it will be "get off my LAN"
    • 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.

      Meh, I'm still pretty sure the iPad isn't going anywhere...

  • We are experiencing some truly important anniversary years for science fiction movies:
    • 2010: 50 year birthday for the laser, without which no cool weapons could be invented!
    • 2012: 50 year birthday for the visible-spectrum LED, without which no advanced machines could be build!
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by sznupi (719324)

      2012: 50 year birthday for the visible-spectrum LED, without which no advanced machines could be build!

      And without those making the serious computers, with a wall of blinking lights, would be so much harder...

    • Don't forget 2013, the 20 year anniversary of the modern high-brightness blue/white LED, without which no modern electronic gadget could have existed.

  • The discovery is 50 years old, and my parents laser printer is nearly 20 years old. The CD player is almost 30 years old. That's very fast from discovery to use to trickle down to consumer crap we can all buy. Sadly it took too long to turn the technology into a cat toy...

    Sheldon

  • by Whuffo (1043790)
    Cats everywhere wish the laser a happy birthday!
  • ... given how many lasers are in my house. The DVD and CD players, game systems - hell, even my toolbox has a laser level to help me hang a row of pictures straight on a wall.

    And yet my geared bicycle requires nothing shy of a virgin, a volcano and some extraordinary good luck to get the rear derailleur aligned so it shifts clean and taught. Bicycle gears, in their current form, have been around since the 1950s [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bicycle_gearing#History], and yet the shifting technology hasn't
  • I met Theodore Maiman once, when he gave a lecture at a college, and got to talk to him afterwards since I was working as an assistant to the prof who got him to come. One of the things I thought was interesting about his talk was, as the summary sort of discusses, the basic stuff of a laser was well-known. Indeed, people had nearly made lasers when they started manufacturing Geiger-Muller tubes. So Maiman spent a lot of time talking about the progression of technical concepts, from investigating the mec
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lightpeak [wikipedia.org]

    If Intel get this right, and the licensing costs aren't ridiculous we might finally get that 'be all and end all' cable for the PC we wanted for all those years.
    I went on a lightpeak google frenzy yesterday, Intel wanted to get it out for the 50'th birthday of the lazer actually.

  • I wonder if any one anticipated you'd be able get one as tiny a pen for just a few dollars 30-some years later. And anyone could buy it.

For God's sake, stop researching for a while and begin to think!

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