This year represents the 50th anniversary of the first successful operation of a laser. On 16th May 1960 Theodore Maiman of Hughes Research Laboratories demonstrated laser action in a flashlamp-pumped rod of synthetic pink ruby.
From the perspective of one involved in the field since 1960, I will trace the ideas which led up to this invention, including some of the important clues which were missed. The path which ultimately led to the laser culminated in the1958 paper by Schawlow and Townes. This spelled out the requirements for an amplifying medium combined with a suitable resonator and sparked intense research efforts in many laboratories – the race for the laser. The difficulties faced by the Maiman in getting his work published, and the competition between Gordon Gould and the Bell Labs team over patents provide an interesting case study in how scientific research is actually done.
Since that time lasers have gone on to establish themselves as a key enabling technology for modern computers, telecommunications and medical procedures. Examples of some of the early devices and the more amusing efforts to market them will be presented.
This event is free.