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The first 50 years of the laser – and the next 50

24 May 2010

Physicists will have a defining role to play in the next 50 years of the laser.

It was on 16 May 1960 that Theodore Maiman – then a 32-year-old engineer-turned-physicist at Hughes Research Laboratories in the US – eked out the first pulses of light from a pink-ruby crystal. Since then the laser has become a workhorse of physics and ingrained in everyday life.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the invention of the laser, physicsworld.com is offering a free PDF download of the May special issue of Physics World magazine (The Laser at 50). You can download the issue by following this link.

If that's not enough, you can also visit the physicsworld.com multimedia channel for a series of exclusive video interviews exploring how lasers are shaping different areas of science and technology:

  • above, Tom Baer of the Stanford Photonics Research Center reviews 50 years of laser physics, and makes some predictions about the next 50;
  • Tom Hausken of the market-research firm Strategies Unlimited discusses how lasers are used in optical communications;
  • medical physicist Brian Pogue of Dartmouth College describes laser-based cancer treatments and the rewards of working with lasers in an interdisciplinary field;
  • Andreas Tünnermann explains how researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Optics and Precision Engineering are developing fibre lasers for use in manufacturing;
  • Narasimha Prasad of NASA's Langley Research Center talks about using space-based lasers to gather data about the climate on Earth – and perhaps beyond.

All of the interviews were filmed during SPIE's 2010 Photonics West conference, which saw nearly 20,000 photonics scientists and engineers from all over the world gather in San Francisco to share their latest results.

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