LaserFest to Celebrate 50 Years of Laser Innovation

By Ernie Tretkoff

Laserfest logo
The APS has joined with the Optical Society of America (OSA) to plan LaserFest, a multi-year series of events and activities centered around 2010 as the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the laser invention 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 as a scientific research tool and in thousands of commercial applications, ranging from barcode scanners to laser surgeries.

The laser was not discovered 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 verified 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, followed by 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 variety of events at the local and national levels to reach students, teachers, policy makers and the public. A website devoted to LaserFest includes information about the laser, an up-to-date list of LaserFest events and instructions on how to participate in the events.

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 additional educational materials, including posters for classrooms, a laser-themed activity book for young children and 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 participate in organizing events. APS and OSA will each contribute resources and are seeking additional funding from the National Science Foundation and Department of Energy for LaserFest.

Many LaserFest activities will take place during 2010, although OSA has begun hosting some events. A symposium honoring Maiman, who died in 2007, was held in San Jose last year at the Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics/International Quantum Electronics. In October, the Schawlow-Townes Symposium on 50 Years of the Laser, marking the 50 anniversary 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/APS Division of Laser Science meeting in Rochester, N.Y. The symposium featured a presentation by Charles Townes on the early history of the laser.