A 60-Year Retrospective of the Laser – Part 1


This year the laser will celebrate 60 remarkable years of helping shape a world of manufacturing, business, and everyday life. Famed scientist and mathematician Albert Einstein had his own theories of the laser in 1917. He is credited for discovering that the stimulated emission of radiation given off by lasers could occur. Einstein also predicted the process of Stimulated Emission. Albert Einstein’s provided the groundwork for the next iteration of the laser — the maser.

Dr. Charles Hard Townes was the inventor of the maser, which is the precursor to the laser. He served in World War II as a radar technician. Dr. Townes later hired as a professor at Columbia University from 1950 to 1952 in the Columbia radiation laboratory. From 1959 to 1964, he served in the Institute of defense analysis in Washington, D.C., where he studied radar and later created the maser. Maser stands for Microwave Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. Dr. Townes would later win the Nobel Prize and carry over 27 honorary degrees in his lifetime. His work led the laser’s invention as we know it today.

The laser was created by Dr. Theodore Maiman in the 1960s. At that time, Dr. Maiman was a physicist working in California at Hughes Electric Corporation against his peers’ wishes. His work began with a ruby because of its high chromium levels. Dr. Maiman would activate a ruby by shining white light into its cylindrical portion. Through his experiments, he was able to amplify certain wavelengths into increased power pulses resulting in a laser beam. Every other physicist was floored by his discoveries and achievements. Dr. Maiman even published the results in a 1960 issue of British Weekly Nature. After this, he was rejected by his peers. Despite all this, by 1961, Dr. Theodore Maiman had shown the world the laser beam’s first successful test, never backing down from his ideals that it could work and proved that the laser could be an easy tool to use. Some of the first lasers used include phosphorus headlamps in cars and its first surgical use in 1963 to destroy the heart’s plaque during surgery.

Lenox Laser hosted a speech by Dr. Townes at one of our light seminars — a lecture entitled How Things Happen, the Invention of the Laser. It was a true once in a lifetime moment to have him come to share his immense knowledge and hear of his experiences. Him, Dr. Maiman, and the people who contributed to the laser’s legacy have had a tremendous effect on our modern-day world. We hope many share and honor the people who made it possible. Come back again next week as we continue to explore more history of a life-changing invention.