Physics

The Laser Turns 50



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Laser light was first generated in 1960. Fifty years later, lasers are an everyday part of life we often take for granted.

Theodore H. Maiman introduced the first functioning laser in 1960, but it was a far cry from the lasers we know today. It utilized a solid state flashlamp-pumped ruby, which produced red light. However, the method only allowed for pulsating bursts of waves. Later on that year, Ali Javan, William R. Bennett, and Donald Herriot invented the first gas laser, which worked with neon and helium gasses. This gas laser was the first laser capable of producing a continuous beam of laser light, and it was a crucial innovation in the budding technology.

According to the website 50 Years Laser, it was said in 1964 that: “The laser is a solution in search of a problem.” This memorable quote pretty much sums up the laser’s history for the next fifty years. Scientists who worked with lasers quickly understood the fact that while the laser had a lot of potential uses, it could never be fully applied to certain tasks until it was optimized for those specific tasks. That understanding led to a major boom in the laser research and manufacturing industries during the laser’s first twenty years.

The 1960’s brought many practical uses for the laser, one of the most important (and still widely-used today) being the application of lasers in sheet metal cutting in 1967. A year later, a technique called “pulse compression” was invented, which allowed laser beams to be more densely concentrated, giving them more power, while only using the same amount of energy; it was a major leap towards today’s lasers.

In 2010, we use lasers for a variety of purposes. Lasers allow for bloodless surgery and more precise dental procedures. Lasers are also used for cosmetic enhancements, such as the removal of tattoos and the treatment of acne. Lasers allow for extremely precise cutting and welding, which is necessary for the production of modern automobiles and other machines. Today, even everyday objects such as laser printers and CD players rely completely on lasers to function, allowing for faster and better performance than their predecessors.  

Lasers are now a multi-billion dollar industry. Even though they’ve been around for fifty years, it seems as though we’re only just starting to understand the various ways in which they can successfully be applied. The future of lasers is only just starting to begin.

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