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LaserFest Celebrates 50th
Oct 2008

The Optical Society of America (OSA) and the American Physical Society (APS) are partnering to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the invention of the laser.

This multiyear celebration, called LaserFest, will consist of a series of events and programs that will honor the accomplishments of the pioneers who made possible the discovery, development and application of the laser. It is the hope that LaserFest will inform students, educators, legislators, funding agencies and the public about the impact of the laser and the importance of scientific and technological innovation.

The first laser was successfully operated in 1960 by Theodore Maiman at Hughes Research Laboratory. Since then, more than 55,000 patents involving the laser have been granted in the United States.

According to OSA, today’s laser and all of its applications are the result of not one individual’s efforts, but the work of a number of prestigious scientists and engineers who were leaders in optics and photonics over the course of history. These include Charles Townes at Columbia University, who developed the maser (the precursor to the laser), and Arthur Schawlow at Bell Laboratories, who, along with Townes, published the key theoretical paper in 1958 that helped lead to the laser’s development. The men jointly were awarded the first laser patent in 1960.

“The laser is one of the most important inventions of the 20th century,” said Rod Alferness, OSA president and chief scientist at Bell Laboratories at Alcatel-Lucent.  “Our global community relies on this pervasive technology for advances in communications, transportation, entertainment, medical diagnostics, manufacturing, and the list goes on. OSA members are not only the founders of this technology, they are the innovators of tomorrow, and LaserFest will honor the laser’s influence over the last 50 years and emphasize its potential for the next 50 as well.”

LaserFest organizers are planning a range of activities at both the local and national levels.  Anticipated programs include public outreach events, traveling lectures, symposia, educational demonstrations and student chapter events.
“There may be no better illustration of the importance of basic research than the laser,” said APS President Arthur Bienenstock. “Many people realized the laser was an important development when the early papers were published half a century ago, but no one could have imagined the tremendous impact it’s had on our lives ever since. In celebrating the laser, we are also celebrating the value of pure research and all the unpredictable and revolutionary advances that only basic research can produce.”

The first event fulfilling LaserFest objectives was a symposium and reception honoring Maiman at the OSA co-sponsored CLEO/QELS conference in May. Another event, in honor of Charles Townes, will be held at Frontiers in Optics, OSA’s annual meeting in Rochester, N.Y., in October. 

OSA and APS are encouraging other scientific professional societies to participate and to plan events as part of LaserFest.

For more information, visit

An acronym for microwave amplification by stimulated emission of radiation. Predecessor to the laser, the maser or 'microwave laser' was the first device to produce coherent electromagnetic waves, and was done at microwave frequencies through amplification by stimulated emission. A laser (light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation) is a maser that works over a broader range of higher frequency photons in the ultraviolet and visible portion of the electromagnetic spectrum.
The technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The science includes light emission, transmission, deflection, amplification and detection by optical components and instruments, lasers and other light sources, fiber optics, electro-optical instrumentation, related hardware and electronics, and sophisticated systems. The range of applications of photonics extends from energy generation to detection to communications and...
American Physical SocietyAPSArthur BienenstockArthur SchawlowBasic ScienceCharles TownesCLEO/QELSCommunicationsFrontiers in OpticsindustrialIndustry EventsLaserFestmaserOptical Society of AmericaopticsOSAphotonicsRod AlfernessTheodore Maimanlasers

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