Rod C. Alferness
As presidents of the Optical Society and the American Physical Society (APS), we are delighted to announce an exciting partnership between our two societies: LaserFest, a multi-year celebration to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the invention of the laser. Through a series of programs and events, LaserFest will honor the pioneers whose work made modern laser technology possible; educate the general public about the history, impact and potential of the laser; and remind legislators and funding agencies of the need to support scientific research and technological innovation. The events will culminate in 2010, the semicentennial of the first successful demonstration of the laser in 1960 by Theodore Maiman at Hughes Research Laboratory in Malibu, Calif., U.S.A.
LaserFest organizers are planning a range of activities at the local and national levels, including public outreach programs, traveling lectures, symposia, educational demonstrations and student chapter events. OSA and APS are also encouraging other scientific and engineering professional societies to join in the LaserFest celebrations and to plan events. Information about current and planned observances, as well as suggestions on how to participate, will be available at www.laserfest.org.
When the laser was invented in 1960, it was called “a solution looking for a problem.” It did not take long for industry to begin to put laser technology to work in products that enhanced the everyday lives of the general population. One of the first highly visible applications was seen in 1974 with the introduction of the supermarket barcode scanner. In 1977, the first commercial fiber optic communication systems, enabled by the semi-conductor laser, were deployed. In 1982, compact disc players brought laser technology into consumers’ homes, followed shortly by laser printers.
Today, fiber optic systems underpin the Internet, and there are literally thousands of applications in science, medicine, information technology, consumer electronics, industry, law enforcement and entertainment. 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 the founders of this technology. Their work carries on as innovators continue to find “problems” to match the laser “solution.”
OSA and APS have already begun to host LaserFest activities. Earlier this year, a tribute symposium honored Theodore Maiman, who passed away on May 5, 2007, at age 79. The symposium, held May 4, 2008, at the CLEO/QELS conference in San Jose, Calif., U.S.A., commemorated the events leading to the invention and demonstration of the first laser and explored the pervasive impact that lasers have had on all aspects of modern society. As presidents of co-sponsoring societies of the meeting, we were thrilled at the standing-room only turnout. This was a wonderful way to begin the 50th anniversary celebrations.
The Maiman tribute was followed with a symposium honoring Arthur Schawlow and Charles Townes, two key figures in the laser’s development. The Schawlow-Townes Symposium on 50 Years of the Laser, held on October 20, 2008, during the Frontiers in Optics (FiO)/APS-DLS Laser Science meeting in Rochester, N.Y., U.S.A., marked the 50th anniversary of the publication of the classic 1958 paper by Schawlow and Townes on infrared and optical masers (Phys. Rev. 112, 1940) and featured a presentation from Townes. We hope that you had the opportunity to hear his first-hand account of a signature event in modern scientific history.
— Rod C. Alferness
— Arthur Bienenstock