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The Laser Turns 60

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The story of the ruby laser is a familiar classic. Its periodic retelling enables the next generation to participate in the collective memory of an important invention.


Six decades ago, in a windowless lab on a hilltop above the Pacific Ocean, Theodore (Ted) Maiman — assisted by Irnee D’Haenens — tested a palm-size device that would upend the scientific establishment. Working at Hughes Research Lab (now HRL Laboratories and formerly the research arm of Hughes Aircraft Co.) in Malibu, Calif., Maiman had built the prototype in less than nine months with a paltry budget of $50,000. It was a fraction of what his competitors working on well-funded projects worldwide at powerhouse facilities had to accomplish the same task, which was to build the world’s first laser.

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Published: June 2020
ruby laser
The optically pumped, solid-state laser that uses sapphire as the host lattice and chromium as the active ion. The emission takes place in the red portion of the spectrum.
Q-switching, short for "quenching-switching," is a technique used in lasers to generate short, high-energy pulses of light. The term "Q" refers to the quality factor of the laser cavity, which represents the energy stored in the cavity relative to the energy lost per round-trip. In a Q-switched laser, the cavity's quality factor (Q-factor) is intentionally reduced or "quenched" to a low value, typically by introducing a loss mechanism into the cavity. This loss mechanism prevents the...
Featuresruby laserTheodore MaimanTed MaimanIrnee DHaenensHughes Research LabCharles TownesArthur SchawlowBell Labsxenon flashlampValentin FabrikantAlbert EinsteinInternational Day of LightDavid ChowJeff HechtKathleen MaimanJapan PrizeWolf Prize in Physicsruby maserCharles AsawaAndrew RawiczKorad Inc.Manhattan ProjectRobert HellwarthQ-switchingKoradStephen JoffeSmithsonian Museum

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