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History of the Laser

One of the first conceptual ideas for lasers can be traced back to the early 1900s. It was Albert Einstein that laid the groundwork for what we know today as the modern laser. Although the similarities between modern lasers and Einstein's ideas are minimal, we would not have the technology we do without his original ideas. Albert Einstein is responsible for the concept of stimulated emission. Simply put, when a photon interacts with a molecule/atom in an excited state, it creates a second photon with similar frequency, direction, and polarization.

Based off Einstein's work, Theodore Maiman was able to create the first working prototype of a laser. This was done in the early 1960s at the Hughes Research Laboratory. After creating the working model, he was able to publish the first scientific paper on lasers. In the paper he explain what laser stands for

  • Light
  • Amplification
  • Stimulated
  • Emission
  • Radiation

Since the first laser in the1960s, over 50,000 separate patents have been issues in relation to lasers. These patents are for the United States of America. Each scientist/engineer, throughout the years, are responsible for creating what we use today. No single person is responsible for lasers.

Two important figures are Charles Townes (Columbia University) and Arthur Schawlow (Bell Laboratories). Townes created something called the maser, which came just before Maiman's work. Schawlow and Townes worked together to write and publish a paper that was fundamental to the work of Theodore Maiman.

After the publication of early papers in the 50s and 60s, a good deal of interest sparked around the field. Many scientist and engineers in the field of optics and photonics began research and testing. All the work that was done over these two decades led to the first widely used laser; however, it wasn't until the mid 1970s. The laser printer was invented in 1971, and it was a few years after until laser began to be used in commercial applications.

In the late 1980s three men shared the Nobel Prize in physics for their work in developing laser spectroscopy. Arthur Schawlow and Nicolaas Bloembergen worked together, whereas Kia M. Siegbahn created the high-resolution electron spectroscopy.

With each year, more and more developments are made to lasers and laser applications. For instance, today we have laser cutting acrylic and acrylic tapping. Traditional ways of cutting acrylic was expensive and not as accurate. It will be amazing to see what technological developments lasers will have in the near future.


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