This Day in Tech History

On This Day . . .

Amped Light

beobachtung_pictureMay 16, 1960:  First Laser Created

On May 16, 1960, Theodore H. Maiman operated the first functioning laser,at Hughes Research Laboratories, Malibu, California, ahead of several research teams, including those of Townes, at Columbia University, Arthur Schawlow, at Bell Labs, and Gould, at the TRG (Technical Research Group) company.

Maiman holding his first laser

Maiman holding his first laser

Maiman created the first laser light, using a synthetic-ruby crystal device. He was not the first to develop the theories behind lasers nor first to apply for patents, but he was the first to create an operating laser device.

Laser1 rubylaser_components

Maiman’s functional laser used a solid-state flashlamp-pumped synthetic ruby crystal to produce red laser light, at 694 nanometres wavelength; however, the device only was capable of pulsed operation, because of its three-level pumping design scheme.  The light produced by this device was not a true beam as we think of most lasers today, but rather a pulse. Other researchers would create the first laser beam soon after.

A laser is a device that emits light through a process of optical amplification based on the stimulated emission of electromagnetic radiation.  The term “laser” originated as an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.  Lasers differ from other sources of light because they emit light coherently.

Its spatial coherence allows a laser to be focused to a tight spot, and this enables applications like laser cutting and laser lithography.  Its spatial coherence also keeps a laser beam collimated over long distances, and this enables laser pointers to work.  Laser also have high temporal coherence which allows them to have a very narrow spectrum, i.e., they only emit a single color of light.  Their temporal coherence also allows them to emit pulses of light that only last a femtosecond.

MaimanLaser_2_s 220px-Ted_Maiman_Holding_First_Laser

Lasers have many important applications.  They are used in common consumer devices such as DVD players, laser printers, and barcode scanners.  They are used in medicine for laser surgery and various skin treatments, and in industry for cutting and welding materials.  They are used in military and law enforcement devices for marking targets and measuring range and speed.  Laser lighting displays use laser light as an entertainment medium.  Lasers also have many important applications in scientific research.

Ted’s wife Kathleen on How the First Laser was Made

Following are one or two . . . a few, of the many uses of lasers:

In science, lasers are used in many ways, including:

  • A wide      variety of interferometric techniques
  • Raman      spectroscopy
  • Laser induced      breakdown spectroscopy
  • Atmospheric      remote sensing
  • Investigating      nonlinear optics phenomena
  • Holographic      techniques employing lasers also contribute to a number of measurement      techniques.
  • Laser based      LIght Detection And Ranging (LIDAR) technology has application in geology,      seismology, remote sensing and atmospheric physics.
  • Lasers have      been used aboard spacecraft such as in the Cassini-Huygens mission.
  • In astronomy,      lasers have been used to create artificial laser guide stars, used as      reference objects for adaptive optics telescopes.
  • Spectroscopy
  • Raman      spectroscopy
  • Laser induced      breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS).
  • Lunar laser      ranging – When the Apollo astronauts visited the moon, they planted      retroreflector arrays. Laser beams are focused through large telescopes on      Earth aimed toward the arrays, and the time taken for the beam to be      reflected back to Earth measured to determine the distance between the      Earth and Moon with high accuracy.
  • Photochemistry
  • Laser cooling
  • Nuclear      fusion
  • Confocal      laser scanning microscopy
  • Two-photon      excitation microscopy make use of lasers to obtain blur-free images of      thick specimens at various depths.
  • Laser capture      microdissection use lasers to procure specific cell populations from a      tissue section under microscopic visualization.


  • Directly as      an energy weapon
  • On 19 July      2010 an anti-aircraft laser described as the Laser Close-In Weapon System      was unveiled at the Farnborough Airshow.[9]
  • The Zeus      laser weapon is the first laser and the first energy weapon of any type to      be used on a battlefield. It is used for neutralizing mines and unexploded      ordnance.
  • Laser Area      Defense System.
  • Lockheed      Martin’s Area Defense Anti-Munitions[10][11]
  • The      Mid-Infrared Advanced Chemical Laser (MIRACL) is an experimental U.S. Navy      deuterium fluoride laser and was tested against an Air Force satellite in      1997.
  • In 2011, the      U.S. Navy began to test the Maritime Laser Demonstrator (MLD), a laser for      use aboard its warships.[12][13]
  • Personnel      Halting and Stimulation Response, or PHaSR, is a non-lethal hand-held      weapon developed by the United States Air Force [14] Its purpose is to      “dazzle” or stun a target. It was developed by Air Force’s Directed Energy      Directorate.
  • Tactical High      Energy Laser (THEL) is a weaponized deuterium fluoride laser developed in      a joint research project by Israel and the U.S. It is designed to shoot      down aircraft and missiles. See also National missile defense.
  • The U.S. Air      Force’s Airborne Laser, or Advanced Tactical Laser, is a plan to mount a      CO2 gas laser or COIL chemical laser on a modified Boeing 747 to shoot down      missiles.[15][16]
  • Portable      Efficient Laser Testbed (PELT)[17]
  • Laser      AirCraft CounterMeasures (ACCM)
  • Defensive      countermeasures lasers
  • Lasers to      confuse the seeker heads on heat-seeking anti-aircraft missiles.
  • High power      boost-phase intercept laser systems use a complex system of lasers to      find, track and destroy intercontinental ballistic missiles
  • Chemical      laser
  • Mobile      Tactical High-Energy Laser weapon system able to track incoming artillery      projectiles and cruise missiles
  • Strategic      Defense Initiative (SDI, nicknamed “Star Wars”),
  • Nuclear-pumped      X-ray laser.
  • X-ray laser
  • Disorientation      – weapons to disorient a person. the Thales Green Laser Optical Warner.
  • A target      designator a low-power laser pointer used to indicate a target for a      precision-guided munition,
  • Laser sight –      a small, usually visible-light laser placed on a handgun or a rifle and      aligned to emit a beam parallel to the barrel.
  • Eye-targeted      lasers A non-lethal laser weapon was developed by the U.S. Air Force to      temporarily impair an adversary’s ability to fire a weapon or to otherwise      threaten enemy forces.
  • Enforcement      use of lasers is for lidar to measure the speed of vehicles.


  • Cosmetic      surgery (removing tattoos, scars, stretch marks, sunspots, wrinkles,      birthmarks, and hairs):
  • Laser hair      removal. Eye surgery and refractive surgery
  • Soft tissue      surgery: CO2, Er:YAG laser
  • Laser scalpel      (General surgery, gynecological, urology, laparoscopic)
  • Photobiomodulation      (i.e. laser therapy)
  • “No-Touch”      removal of tumors, especially of the brain and spinal cord.
  • In dentistry      for caries removal, endodontic/periodontic procedures, tooth whitening,      and oral surgery


  • Lasers used      for visual effects during a musical performance. (A laser light show.)
  • Leveling of      ceramic tiles floor with a laser device
  • Laser cutting
  • Laser welding
  • Laser      drilling
  • Laser marking
  • Laser      cladding, a surface engineering process applied to mechanical components      for reconditioning, repair work or hardfacing
  • Photolithography
  • Optical      communications over optical fiber or in free space
  • Laser peening
  • Guidance      systems (e.g., ring laser gyroscopes)
  • Rangefinder /      surveying,
  • LIDAR /      pollution monitoring,
  • Digital      minilabs
  • Barcode      readers
  • Laser      engraving of printing plate
  • Laser bonding      of additive marking materials for decoration and identification,
  • Laser      pointers
  • Laser      accelerometers
  • OLED display      manufacturing
  • Holography
  • Bubblegrams
  • Optical      tweezers
  • Writing      subtitles onto motion picture films.
  • Power      beaming, which is a possible solution to transfer energy to the climber of      a Space elevator
  • 3D laser      scanners for accurate 3D measurement
  • Laser line      levels are used in surveying and construction. Lasers are also used for      guidance for aircraft.
  • Laser      printers:
  • Diode lasers      are used as a lightswitch in industry, with a laser beam and a receiver      which will switch on or off
  • Laser      alignment
  • Additive      manufacturing
  • Plastic      welding
  • In consumer      electronics, telecommunications, and data communications, lasers are used      as the transmitters in optical communications over optical fiber and free      space.
  • To store and      retrieve data in optical discs
  • Laser      lighting displays accompany many music concerts.

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