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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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Photonics Spectra
Aug 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.
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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