APS News

LaserFest to Celebrate 50 Years of Laser Innovation

Laserfest logo
The APS has joined with the Optical Society of America (OSA) in planning LaserFest, a multi-year series of events and activities centered on 2010 commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the invention of the laser in 1960.

“Every time we give a presentation using a laser pointer, see a laser light show, watch a DVD or benefit from bloodless surgery or laser eye correction, we are profiting from the work of our colleagues who were the founders of this technology,” said APS President Arthur Bienenstock and OSA President Rod Alferness in a joint statement.

When it was first invented, the laser was called a “solution looking for a problem.” Today the laser is used in thousands commercial applications ranging from barcode scanners to laser surgery, and as a scientific research tool.

The laser resulted not from a single breakthrough by one individual, but from a series of developments. Albert Einstein in 1917 presented the concept of stimulated emission, which was later experimentally verified. The maser, a precursor to the laser, was developed in 1954 by Charles Townes and independently by Nicolay Basov and Alexandr Prokhorov. Townes and Arthur Schawlow published an important paper on the theory of the laser in Physical Review in 1958, which led to the first patent for a laser awarded in March 1960, and the first demonstration of a working laser two months later by Theodore Maiman at Hughes Research Lab.

To celebrate the laser, APS and OSA are planning a wide variety of events at the local and national level. LaserFest activities are intended to reach students and teachers, policy makers, and the public.

A website devoted to LaserFest (LaserFest.org) will include information about the laser, an up-to-date list of LaserFest events, and instructions on how to participate. A preliminary version of the site was launched in September.

Educational activities such as PhysicsQuest, an APS activity kit for middle school students, will have a laser theme for 2009-2010. APS plans to develop other educational materials as well, including posters for classrooms and a laser-themed activity book for young children. APS also plans to produce and distribute videos.

Throughout the year, public lectures, symposia, debates, laser shows and demonstrations will highlight the laser’s history and applications.

OSA will encourage its student chapters to organize laser days to be held in communities, schools, and on college campuses. Chapters of the Society of Physics Students are also expected to get involved in organizing events.

APS and OSA will each contribute their own resources, and are seeking additional funding from NSF and DOE for LaserFest.

Many LaserFest events will take place during 2010, though OSA has already hosted some events. A symposium honoring Theodore Maiman, who died in 2007, was held in San Jose in May at the CLEO/QELS conference. In October, the Schawlow-Townes Symposium on 50 Years of the Laser, marking the fiftieth anniversary of the of the publication of the classic paper by Schawlow and Townes [Infrared and Optical Masers, Phys. Rev. 112, 1940 (1958)], was held in conjunction with the Frontiers in Optics (FiO)/APS-DLS Laser Science meeting in Rochester, NY. The symposium featured a presentation by Charles Townes on the early history of the laser. 

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Staff Writer: Ernie Tretkoff
Contributing Editor: Jennifer Ouellette
Science Writing Intern: Nadia Ramlagan