A Brief History
On November 14, 1967, physicist Theodore Maiman, an American working for Hughes Research Laboratories, was finally granted a patent for the “optical maser” (maser: microwave amplification by stimulated emission of radiation) device he called the Laser (laser: light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation), once the stuff of science fiction and now an everyday common electronic device.
Using a synthetic ruby to focus light pumped from a high energy source (the scientific details hurt my liberal arts head), the laser was featured in the James Bond film, Goldfinger (1964) demonstrating the powerful light’s ability to cut metal, or if need be, a British secret agent!
Of course, the long awaited science fiction “death ray” is often a tempting use for extremely large and powerful lasers, and many military related experiments have been performed testing lasers mounted on armored vehicles, ships, and airplanes. The concentrated beam of light could be used to blind the enemy (permanently, how sickening people can be!) or to destroy incoming missiles/projectiles/airplanes, or destroy ground or sea targets.
The most common laser is red because of the use of the synthetic ruby, but other colors (notably green) are used when other synthetic gems are employed. Small lasers mounted on firearms make aiming a gun as simple as can be, a practice amply illustrated in the movies and on television.
Lasers have become so small, so cheap, and so pervasive in so many aspects of our lives it is hard to believe they did not exist when I was born. Question for students (and subscribers): What future uses for lasers do you foresee? What uses can you think that are not named here? What is your favorite application of this technology, the use you could not possibly want to live without? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
(Note: Pointing even a small toy laser in the eyes of a person or animal is quite dangerous and can cause permanent eye damage, or if the person is operating a car, plane, or other vehicle can cause a wreck. Please use lasers carefully and considerately. Thanks.)
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For more information, please see…
Hamilton, Guy, dir. Goldfinger. Mgm (Video & DVD), 2015. Blu-ray.
Waters, Mr Rod. Maiman’s Invention of the Laser: How Science Fiction Became Reality. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013.