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Fifty years and counting …

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Tom Laurin

Looking back through photo albums, parents and relatives can “ooh” and “aah” over a baby’s milestones long after the baby has grown up, graduated from college, gotten married and had babies of his or her own.

This month marks a very important birthday for the laser: On May 16, 1960, Hughes Research Laboratories physicist Theodore H. Maiman demonstrated the first ruby laser.

Fifty years after that first demonstration, lasers are everywhere – they are used in everything from communications to weapons, from manufacturing to sensing and more; that first ruby laser has spawned a whole family of technologies and lent itself to previously unimagined applications.

As the technology began to blossom, Photonics Spectra (then Optical Spectra) covered its evolution from laboratory oddity with devices that filled a whole room to the far more compact workhorse it is today.

To celebrate this major anniversary, we at Photonics Spectra have planned a three-month blowout. This month, we’ll look back at the laser’s humble beginnings and explosive growth over the years. In the June issue, we will explore the ways in which new companies, safety standards, applications and innovations have developed in the past 50 years. In the July issue, we will examine Ti:sapphire and fiber lasers in depth, and we will follow the history of the Laser Institute of America and look ahead at where the technology is likely to go in the next half-century. And on, you can find an interactive timeline of the key events and figures in the laser’s history.

In “A History of the Laser: A Trip Through the Light Fantastic” on page 58 of this issue, senior editor Melinda Rose walks us through the important developments in the laser’s long and varied history. (A comprehensive timeline of the laser can be found online at In “On the Shoulders of Giants” on page 70, features editor Lynn Savage paints a portrait of the players who helped make the laser what it is today.

Congratulations are in order for the people, institutions and companies who have done so much to develop and advance this history-changing technology, and we hope that all their wishes come true as they blow out those 50th-birthday candles.

Photonics Spectra
May 2010

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