Fifty years ago this month, physicist Theodore Maiman and his colleagues succeeded in making the first laser work at Hughes Research Laboratories in Malibu, Calif., U.S.A. And five years before that, Charles Townes and his team laid the groundwork for that breakthrough when they published their pioneering work in Physical Review about a new type of microwave amplifier called the maser.

At that time, none of these researchers could have imagined how much lasers would transform science and society over the next half-century. Our features this month seek to acknowledge the laser’s rich history, its dynamic present, and its endlessly promising future.

The laser was not produced by a single person or group in an ivory tower. Like its applications, its developers are diverse and manifold. Its story is the story of a Ph.D. student in search of a thesis. It is the tale about a time when industrial laboratories were leading innovators in optics research. It is an account of a fiery female postdoc (and, later, OSA’s 1993 President) who took a break from her research to become a laser artist. And it is the unfolding story of how computing, communications and optics are slowly integrating into the single force that could power the next part of the Information Age.

The story of the laser is their story—and yours.

Laser Extras

Help OPN celebrate the laser's 50th birthday this month by checking out our interactive videos, galleries, and open-access articles.



OSA Student Chapters Present: Laser Grafitti

Lasers Gone Wild—A Sampling of Award-Winning Laser Shows

LaserFest Video: Lasers—Transforming Life




Elsa Garmire's Laser Art

2009 ILDA Artistic Award Winners and Entries



From the Magazine

The Laser's First Light—Happenings from May 1960

OPN Talks with ... Gérard Mourou

[Online Extra]
Conversations with Steven Block and David Awschalom



From the OPN Archive

A. DeMaria. Lasers: The First 25 Years, published October 1985.

J.J. Ewing. Excimer Lasers at 30 Years, published May 2003.

R.D. Dupuis. The Diode Laser: The First 30 Days, 40 Years Ago, published April 2004.

J. Hecht. Beam: The Race to Make the Laser, published July/Aug 2005.

J. Hecht. The Breakthrough Birth of the Diode Laser, published July/Aug 2007.

J. Hecht. The History of the X-ray Laser, published May 2008

J. Hecht. Half a Century of Laser Weapons, published February 2009.

D.C. Brown and J.W. Cooper. Solid-State Lasers: Steady Progress through the Decades, published May 2009.

J. Hecht. A History of Gas Lasers—Part 1, published January 2010.

C. Webb. A History of Gas Lasers—Part 2, published February 2010.

D. McGloin and J.P. Reed. 40 Years of Optical Manipulation, published March 2010.