OSA TIMELINE

A look at the social, political and scientific highlights of the century beginning 1916.
OSA History

January 1916

Nutting Argues for "The Need for Applied Optics"

An address to the inaugural meeting of the Rochester Association for the Advancement of Applied Optics articulates the importance of an emerging field--and of working in common purpose.

Photo Credit: OSA Historical Archives

OSA History

February 1916

Plans Floated for a National Society

The minutes of the Executive Council of the Rochester Association of Applied Optics note that "various plans relating to the preliminary work of the organization of a national society were discussed."

Photo Credit: OSA

Science/Politics

February 1916

Battle of Verdun Begins

Stretching through December 1916, the battle was one of the bloodiest of the war, leading to some 300,000 deaths, and affixed an indelible mark on the French imagination.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Science/Politics

March 1916

BMW Founded

BMW was established as a business entity following a restructuring of the Rapp Motorenwerke aircraft manufacturing firm 

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Science/Politics

April 1916

Daylight Savings Time Introduced

The practice of setting clocks forward to claim more daylight was first instituted by Germany as a wartime measure; Britain and several other countries quickly followed suit.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

OSA History

May 1916

OSA Chooses Its Name

A proposed amendment to the constitution of the Rochester Association for the Advancement of Applied Optics includes a resolution that "The name of the Rochester society shall be the Optical Society of America, Rochester Section."

Photo Credit: OSA Historical Archives

November 1916

Battle of the Somme Ends

The battle - one of the costliest in history, with more than a million casulaties - had lasted more than four months by its conclusion, and produced no clear winner.

Photo Credit: Library and Archives Canada / Wikimedia Commons

December 1916

First OSA Meeting

The society's first meeting is held at Columbia University, under the auspices of the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Twelve papers were presented in the first meeting.

Photo Credit: wikipedia

OSA History

1917

First JOSA Issue

The initial plan forecast a printing cost of "about $150 per month per issue of 500 copies," and a subscription price of $5 per year.

Photo Credit: OSA

Science/Politics

January 1917

"Zimmerman Telegram" Decoded

The Temptation - a political cartoon about the Zimmerman telegram published in the Dallas Morning News.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

April 1917

U.S. Declares War on Germany

The United States would ultimately send some two million soldiers to the European conflict.

Photo Credit: Library of Congress / Wikimedia Commons

Science/Politics

November 1917

Russian Revolution

An armed insurrection in Petrograd kicks off a series of events leading to the takeover of the state by the Bolshevik party.

Photo Credit: Goldshtein / Wikimedia Commons

January 1918

Wilson's "Fourteen Points"

In a speech on "war aims and peace terms," the U.S. president advocates a set of core principles as a foundation for lasting peace after the war's end.

Photo Credit: E.N. Jackson, US Army Signal Corps / Wikimedia Commons

March 1918

Hints of a Pandemic

Early reports from a county in Kansas, USA, and from areas in Europe suggest a troubling increase in severe influenza cases. The 1918-1920 flu pandemic will ultimately claim 50 million lives worldwide.

Photo Credit: National Photo Company / Wikimedia Commons

Science/Politics

November 1918

War in Europe Ends

The armistice between the Allied powers and Germany is signed at Compiègne.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

OSA History

December 1918

OSA Ponders the Industry's Future

At the society's third annual meeting in Baltimore, a special symposium on applied optics included 18 papers on the industry's growth during wartime, the "Readjustment of the Industry to Peacetime Demands," and the broader needs of optical education and manufacturing. Eighty people attended, an extraordinary attendance for a young society in such difficult times.

Photo Credit: OSA

January 1920

Prohibition Begins

The 18th amendment to the Constitution, banning the sale of alcoholic beverages, comes into effect in the United States.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Science/Politics

August 1920

Women’s Suffrage Begins

August 26, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was finally ratified, enfranchising all American women and declaring for the first time that they, like men, deserve all the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.

Photo Credit: Tennessee State Library and Archives / Wikimedia Commons

December 1920

Fifth Annual OSA Meeting

The meeting, held in Chicago, is the last to be held under the auspices of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Membership in the society by the time of the meeting had reached roughly 200 persons.

Photo Credit: OSA Historical Archives

OSA History

1922

Review of Scientific Instruments

A new journal on scientific instrumentation is added as a part of each issue of JOSA.

Photo Credit: OSA Archives

Science/Politics

February 1922

Ulysses Appears

James Joyce's pathbreaking novel is published in Paris.

Photo Credit: Photo by C. Ruf, Zurich / Wikimedia Commons

OSA History

October 1922

Exhibit of Optical Instruments

The 1922 OSA meeting is the first to include exhibits of optical and scientific apparatus.
Science/Politics

October 1922

Birth of the BBC

Broadcasting in Britain began on October 18, 1922 provided by a monopoly consortium of private radio companies called the British Broadcasting Company under the direction of the Post Office. 

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Science/Politics

October 1922

Mussolini Seizes Power in Italy

After a march on Rome by 30,000 Fascist followers of Benito Mussolini, the Italian king hands over power to Mussolini and asks him to form a new government.

Photo Credit: German Federal Archives / Wikimedia Commons

November 1923

Hitler's Failed Putsch

Adolph Hitler leads Nazi followers in the failed "Beer Hall Putsch," landing Hitler in jail.

Photo Credit: German Federal Archives / Wikimedia Commons

OSA History

January 1924

Highlighting Challenges Ahead

Herbert E. Ives, taking the reins as OSA president, writes a letter to the council noting that membership has grown to nearly 400 persons - but also highlighting some of the challenges, particularly financial, that the growth has wrought.

Photo Credit: OSA Historical Archives

OSA History

1925

Helmholtz Translation Published

The English-language version of the Treatise on Physiological Optics, a key (and massive) early OSA publishing effort, was issued in three volumes in 1924 and 1925. A review in Science called the effort "one of the most notable scientific publications in recent years."

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

July 1925

Scopes Trial Begins

John T. Scopes, a Tennessee high school teacher, is tried for teaching evolution in violation of a state law.

Photo Credit: Mike Licht / Wikimedia Commons

Science/Politics

1926

First Movie with Synchronized Sound Effects

First feature-length film to utilize the Vitaphone sound-on-disc sound system. It has a synchronized musical score and sound effects, but no spoken dialogue.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Warner Borthers

OSA History

January 1926

JOSA's First Editor Dies

Hermann Kellner, who had worked as an optical scientist with Bausch & Lomb and, later, in the motion picture industry, edited the journal in its first three years (1917-1919), before passing the reins to Paul Foote in 1920. Kellner was 53 years old at his death.
Science/Politics

January 1926

Schroedinger Publishes New Quantum Theory

In a paper in Annalen der Physik, Erwin Schroedinger presents the wave-mechanics formulation of quantum theory, including his eponymous equation.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

May 1926

A Flight over the North Pole?

Richard Byrd and Floyd Bennett claim - perhaps falsely - to be the first to fly over the pole.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

January 1927

Metropolis Premiers

Fritz Lang's landmark film had its first showing in Berlin.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Science/Politics

May 1927

Lindbergh Crosses the Atlantic

First solo flight across the Atlantic, in the Spirit of St. Louis, makes Charles Lindbergh an international hero.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

OSA History

December 1927

OSA Membership Hits 450

The tally by the end of the year included 25 members from ten foreign countries.

Photo Credit: OSA Archives

OSA History

February 1928

OSA's First Medal Is Endowed

OSA charter member and former president Herbert E. Ives endowed the medal in memory of his father, photographic pioneer Frederic Ives. The initial endowment was $1,000, which Ives subsequently increased to allow the medal to be struck annually. The Ives medal, honoring distinguished work in optics, remains the society's highest honor.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

OSA History

November 1928

The "Michelson Meeting"

An ambitious OSA annual meeting to honor A. A. Michelson, on the 50th anniversary of his landmark results on the velocity of light, is preceded by an active publicity campaign. The meeting, which included presentation of a paper by Michelson, motion pictures of Jupiter, and a demonstration of Technicolor technology, is a spectacular success, attracting some 500 attendees. The meeting's proceedings, along with a 1928 "Yearbook of the Optical Society of America" reviewing the society's history to that point, were produced in the same year.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

October 1929

Onset of Great Depression

"Black Friday" ushers in the Wall Street stock market collapse of October 1929, and heralds the onset of a worldwide economic slump that would last for a decade, until the beginning of World War II.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Science/Politics

October 1929

Vitamin K Discovered

The existence of the Vitamin K group was discovered by Henrik Dam while studying cholesterol metabolism in chicks.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

OSA History

1930

JOSA and RSI Part Company

The Review of Scientific Instruments, which had been published as a section of the society's main journal since 1922, begin to be published as separate journals. Publication of the Review would be taken over by the American Institute of Physics in 1937.
OSA History

December 1930

OSA Membership Reaches 600

Membership in OSA hits a landmark number.

Photo Credit: Wikicommons

OSA History

May 1931

AIP Is Formed

The Optical Society, the Physical Society, and the Acoustical Society come together to found an umbrella society for physics, the American Institute of Physics. The Society of Rheology and the American Association of Physics Teachers join AIP soon after its founding.

Photo Credit: AIP

September 1931

Japan Invades Manchuria

The Japanese imperial army would occupy the region - reconfigured as the puppet state Manchukuo - through 1945.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons/ Drawing by A.L. Tarter

OSA History

September 1932

Adolph Lomb Dies

The OSA charter member served as the society's first treasurer from its 1916 founding until his death at age 66. The same year also sees the death of I.G. Priest, OSA's 1928-29 president.
OSA History

October 1932

OSA Is Formally Incorporated

In a reflection of its growth, the society's legal incorporation is signed, and a new corporate seal is introduced, in New York.

Photo Credit: OSA

Science/Politics

November 1932

Franklin D. Roosevelt Elected U.S. President

The popular governor of the state of New York scores a landslide win over predecessor Herbert Hoover, on a promise of a "New Deal" for America. Roosevelt would be re-elected a record three times and would dominate U.S. politics for the next decade.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

January 1933

Hitler Sworn in as German Chancellor

The accession of Hitler to leadership began the process that would eventually result in the fall of the Weimar Republic and the establishment of dictatorial rule.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

OSA History

February 1933

Reviving the Colorimetry Committee

A new committee of 14 OSA members is tasked with bringing the society's out-of-print report on color up to date. It is the first step on a 20-year road that will lead, in 1953, to the publication of the landmark work The Science of Color.

Photo Credit: OSA

OSA History

December 1933

Depression Impacts Membership

For the first time since its founding, the society experiences a drop in membership, attributable to the economic malaise of the 1930s.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

January 1936

OSA Turns 20

OSA celebrates its own 20th anniversary and the fifth anniversary of the founding of AIP. Regular member dues: $7.50.

Photo Credit: OSA

Science/Politics

June 1936

Early 3-D Photography

The Romanian physicist Theodor V. Lonescu patents an early form of 3-D imaging for movies and television. 3-D will not begin to capture the public's imagination, however, until after World War II.
Science/Politics

November 1936

BBC Television Service Launched

The British Broadcasting Corp Television Service launched, becoming the world's first regularly scheduled public television service with a high level of image resolution.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Science/Politics

November 1936

Birth of the "Turing Machine"

Alan Turing's intellectual construct, which he dubbed an "a-machine" (for "automatic machine"), makes its first appearance in the paper "On Computable Numbers," published in Proceedings of the London Mathematical Society.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

OSA History

1937

First Frederic Ives Medal Awarded

Herbert Ives is the first recipient of the Ives Medal.

Photo Credit: OSA

May 1937

Hindenburg Disaster

While attempting to moor at a mast in Lakehurst, New Jersey, USA, the hydrogen-packed German airship bursts into flame, killing 36 people and attracting enormous media attention.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

January 1938

Geographic Diversity of OSA's Membership

OSA members are starting to come from across the country and around the world.

Photo Credit: OSA

Science/Politics

February 1938

Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Described

Isidor Rabi, a Hungarian-Jewish émigré physicist at Columbia University in New York, would receive the 1944 Nobel Prize for the discovery.

Photo Credit: Wiki Commons

October 1938

First Xerographic Image

After several years of experimentation in his apartment kitchen and a rented room in Astoria, Queens, Chester Carlson, along with assistant Otto Kornei, created the first copy executed using electrophotography — later rechristened xerography.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

OSA History

1939

Student Membership Established

At the February Board of Directors Meetings, student members were established as a new class of membership.
Science/Politics

1939

Hewlett-Packard Founded

The archetypal "garage start-up" opens for business, with an initial capital investment of $538.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Science/Politics

June 1939

Population Inversion Proposed

In a Ph.D. thesis on the optical properties of gas discharges, the Soviet scientist Valentin Fabrikant suggested the possibility of forcing a gas system away from thermal equilibrium to an energy state favoring stimulated emission. His work would lie fallow for more than a decade.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

September 1939

World War II Begins

The German invasion of Poland marks the start of a cataclysmic global conflict that will last nearly six years.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

OSA History

October 1939

A Second OSA Medal

To honor its late long-time treasurer and charter member, the OSA board decides to establish the Adolph Lomb Medal, to be awarded every two years to a person under the age of 30 who has made a noteworthy contribution to optics. The first medal is awarded to David MacAdam one year later.

Photo Credit: OSA

OSA History

November 1939

Floyd Richtmyer Dies

A tireless charter member, JOSA editor, and an early booster of the American Association of Physics Teachers — as well as the author of the very first paper in the very first issue of JOSA — Richtmyer died unexpectedly at the age of 58.

Photo Credit: OSA

OSA History

1940

Emeritus Membership Established

Emeritus Membership was offered to individuals who had been members for at least 20 years upon reaching the age of 65
Science/Politics

March 1940

Breaking the Enigma Code

The first of the British "bombes"—mechanized calculating machines designed by Alan Turing and built by the British Tabulating Machine Company — is installed at Bletchley Park, England. The decoding prowess of the bombe, and dozens of cognate machines in England and the United States, will play an important, but hidden, role in winning the war.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

OSA History

October 1940

Celebrating the Original Rochester Association

The 1940 meeting marked the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Rochester Association for the Advancement of Applied Optics, OSA's precursor organization. By the time of the 1940 meeting, OSA's membership had grown to more than 650 persons.
OSA History

1941

George Harrison Takes JOSA's Reins

Having finished out Richtmyer's unexpired term, the distinguished MIT spectroscoper agrees to a full term at the JOSA helm (assisted by W. F. Meggers of the Bureau of Standards). He will remain editor until December 1949 and deal with many difficult issues occasioned by the war.

Photo Credit: OSA Historical Archives

January 1941

First Digital Computer

Konrad Zuse completed Z3, the world's first working programmable, fully automatic digital computer.

Photo Credit: Venusianer at the German language Wikipedia

October 1941

War Clouds Shadow OSA's Annual Meeting

Only a few months before the U.S. entry into World War II, its annual meeting included five invited papers on optics in national defense — one of which, delivered by Vannevar Bush, attracted an overflow crowd.

Photo Credit: Wiki Commons

Science/Politics

March 1942

Asimov's “Three Laws of Robotics”

In the story “Runaround,” published in the March 1942 Astounding Science Fiction—and set in the distant future year of 2015—Isaac Asimov first fully articulates the famous fictional laws.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Science/Politics

December 1942

First Chain Reaction

In the squash courts of the University of Chicago's Stagg Field, a team supervised by Enrico Fermi achieved the first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction, giving birth to the "atomic age."

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Science/Politics

March 1943

The Norden Bombsight's Combat Debut

One of the most celebrated secret technologies of World War II, the sight — which combined an optical system with a mechanical tracking computer — had been developed by the Dutch-born engineer Carl Norden in the late 1920s and 1930s.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

June 1943

First Dialysis Machine

Working in the occupied Netherlands, and improvising with materials including beverage cans and a washing machine, the Dutch physician Willem Johan Kolff creates the first working dialyzer.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

October 1943

Spectroscopy Dominates 1943 Meeting

The society's wartime meeting in 1943 included several double sessions to accommodate some 30 papers on spectroscopy. Color and astronomical optics were other key foci of the meeting.

Photo Credit: National Institute of Standards and Technology

June 1944

Birth of Game Theory

Theory of Games and Economic Behavior, the landmark treatise by John von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern, is published by Princeton University Press.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

February 1945

Yalta Conference

Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin meet at Yalta, in the Soviet Crimea, to decide on surrender terms for Germany and map out the future of Europe. Within two months, Roosevelt would be dead, and Harry S. Truman would assume U.S. leadership.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Science/Politics

May 1945

War in Europe Ends

A week after Hitler's death by suicide, the German armed forces surrender to the allies in Rheims, France, and Berlin, Germany.
OSA History

1946

OSA Reaches 30

OSA celebrates its thirty year anniversary.

Photo Credit: Wikicommons

Science/Politics

January 1946

First Meeting of the United Nations

The U.N. General Assembly meets for the first time in London, U.K. The meeting includes representatives from 51 countries.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

February 1946

ENIAC Unveiled

The development of the “Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer,”—the first “Turing complete” electronic digital computer—is announced at the University of Pennsylvania. The work is the fruit of a previously classified project for the U.S. Army Ordnance Department.

Photo Credit: U.S. Army/ Wikimedia Commons

OSA History

April 1946

Local Sections and "Unity in Diversity"

In an indication of the growth both in optics and in OSA as it begins its fourth decade, OSA President George Harrison, in an essay in the April JOSA, titled “Unity in Diversity,” invites local groups “having optical interests” to petition the society for recognition as local sections. The Detroit, Mich., local section is recognized later in the year, followed by six others between 1947 and 1952.

Photo Credit: OSA Photo Archive

OSA History

February 1947

Land Demos Polaroid Photography at OSA Winter Meeting

In “the most exciting part of the program,” according to the proceedings subsequently published in JOSA, Land “disclosed and demonstrated for the first time a new photographic process whereby a contact positive print is made in one minute in the camera itself.” In the same year, Land would (along with David MacAdam of Eastman Kodak) become one of OSA's first two traveling lecturers.

Photo Credit: OSA Historical Archives

Science/Politics

August 1947

Lamb Shift Discovered

In a landmark paper in Physical Review Letters, Willis Lamb of Columbia University and his grad student Robert Retherford report on measurements of a tiny shift in hydrogen atoms from theoretically expected levels, which come to be known as the Lamb shift. Their precise measurements provide the impetus to clear some hurdles in still-evolving quantum theory—and will earn Lamb the 1955 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Photo Credit: National Archives and Records Administration, courtesy AIP Emilio Segre Visual Archives

December 1947

Transistors

A team at Bell Labs—including William Shockley, John Bardeen and Walter Brattain, who would go on to share the Nobel Prize for the discovery—succeeds in creating the first point-contact transistor.

Photo Credit: By Windell Oskay from Sunnyvale, CA, USA (Bell Labs 004) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

OSA History

May 1948

Physics Today Debuts

The first issue of the magazine—established by AIP for distribution to members of all member societies, including OSA—began with an article called “Trends in American Science” by Vannevar Bush, and included a recap of the 1948 OSA winter meeting.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Science/Politics

May 1948

First Holography Paper

In “A New Microscopic Principle,” published in Nature, Dennis Gabor first articulates his “two-step method” of imaging through wavefront reconstruction. While the method would find some initial use in electron microscopy, its optical possibilities would not start to be realized until the advent of the laser. Gabor would win the 1971 Physics Nobel Prize for the discovery.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

OSA History

October 1948

OSA Board Names Committee on Uniform Color Scales

The committee, originally vetted in 1947, was set up with a funding authorization of $US10,000 to tackle the difficult problem of color standards.

Photo Credit: OSA

Science/Politics

1949

Columbia Records Introduces Its LP Disk

The LP (long play), or 33 1/3 rpm microgroove vinyl record, is a format for phonograph (gramophone) records, an analog sound storage medium.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

April 1949

The Cold War Begins

The signing of the North Atlantic Treaty establishes the defense pact among the U.S. and Western Europe, which initially involved 12 nations. Six years later, the Soviet Union would respond with creation of an Eastern-Bloc counterpart, the Warsaw Pact.

Photo Credit: By Abbie Rowe, 1905-1967, Photographer (NARA record: 8451352) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

OSA History

August 1949

Perley Nutting Dies

Nutting—memorialized in a subsequent JOSA obituary as “the leader and the moving spirit in the formation of the Optical Society of America”—was a few weeks shy of his 76th birthday at the time of his death.

Photo Credit: OSA Photo Archives

October 1949

People's Republic of China Formed

After more than two decades of civil and world war, the victorious Communist Party declares the new state, under the leadership of Mao Zedong.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Science/Politics

October 1949

Birth of the Pre-Laser Barcode

Bernard Silver and Norman Joseph Woodland file a patent for a primitive, bull's-eye-shaped barcode and reading system. The technology is dismissed as a curiosity; as with holography, it will need to await a source of coherent light—i.e., the laser—for its immense promise to become apparent.

Photo Credit: Patent office

Science/Politics

June 1950

Toward Optical Pumping

In a paper in Journal de Physique, the French physicist Alfred Kastler suggests the concept of optical pumping—a key component of future maser and laser theory.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Science/Politics

August 1951

The Catcher in the Rye

J.D. Salinger's novel, destined to become a touchstone for alienated adolescents, is first published in the U.S.

Photo Credit: By Bantam [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

December 1951

First Nuclear Power Plant

Experimental Breeder Reactor I, a U.S. government experimental facility in the state of Idaho, becomes the first reactor to generate electrical power—enough to operate four 200-watt light bulbs.

Photo Credit: By ENERGY.GOV (HD.6B.015) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

May 1952

Maser Principles Described

Soviet scientists Alexander Prokhorov and Nicolay Basov outline the theoretical principles for a microwave oscillator, based on ammonia, at the All-Union Conference on Radio-Spectroscopy of the U.S.S.R. Academy of Sciences. They would publish their findings two years later, in October 1954.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

October 1952

The H-Bomb Debuts

In “Operation Ivy,” the U.S. executes the first successful test of a multi-megaton thermonuclear device, on the Enewetak Atoll in the Pacific Ocean. The first thermonuclear test by the Soviet Union will be reported less than a year later.

Photo Credit: By United States Department of Energy (nuclearweaponarchive.org) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

March 1953

A Third OSA Award Is Endowed

The Edgar D. Tillyer Medal, named for one of the society's longest-surviving charter members, honors distinguished work in the field of vision. The first medal was presented to Tillyer himself in 1954.

Photo Credit: OSA Historical Archives

April 1953

The Double Helix

In an article in Nature, James Watson and Francis Crick unveil their structural model of the DNA molecule, based on X-ray diffraction work by Rosalind Franklin and Raymond Gosling.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

OSA History

April 1953

The Science of Color Is Published

The landmark work—built on more than 20 years of persistent work by OSA's Committee on Colorimetry—is recognized as an instant classic. The first edition will go through eight printings, the last in 1999.

Photo Credit: OSA Historical Archives

Science/Politics

May 1953

Report on Clad Optical Fiber

After two years of intense research—based on a 1951 suggestion by OSA President Brian O'Brien—Abraham Van Heel submits a paper to Nature reporting on the transmission of an image through an optical fiber clad with material of a lower refractive index. It is, in the words of author Jeff Hecht, “the crucial conceptual breakthrough that launched modern fiber optics.”

Photo Credit: OSA

December 1953

Death of Two OSA Pioneers

The December 1953 number of JOSA noted the death of Fred E. Wright (d. 25 August 1953), who served as the society's second president from 1918 to 1919, and Herbert E. Ives (d. 13 November 1953), a huge figure in OSA history who endowed the society's first medal, served as its sixth president (1924-25), and made signal contributions to its long-term stability, its efforts in colorimetry, and more.

Photo Credit: OSA Photo Archives

Science/Politics

December 1953

A Nobel Prize for Phase Contrast Microscopy

Frits Zernike receives the Physics prize for the method—which would go on to revolutionize biological imaging and particularly studies of the living cell—some 20 years after he initially discovered it.

Photo Credit: By Anefo (Nationaal Archief) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Science/Politics

May 1954

The First Working Maser

James Gordon, H.J. Ziegler, and Charles Hard Townes submit a short note to Physical Review describing “[a]n experimental device, which can be used as a very high resolution microwave spectrometer, a microwave amplifier, or a very stable oscillator”—and which, in another paper a year later, they will dub the maser. The laser revolution has begun.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

October 1954

OSA Holds First West Coast Meeting

The conference, in Los Angeles, included an en route Board meeting that took place in the observation car of the Golden State Limited.

Photo Credit: Illinois Railway Museum. Photo by Sean Lamb (User:Slambo), July, 2004.

Science/Politics

April 1955

Death of Albert Einstein

The German-born physicist, revered both among scientists and in the public sphere, is 76 years old at the time of his death in Princeton, N.J., USA.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

OSA History

1956

OSA at 40

By its 40th birthday, The Optical Society had attracted a membership of 2,345. Regular member dues were $10 (which would increase to $12 by 1958).
Science/Politics

July 1956

Neutrinos Observed

In a paper in Science, Clyde Cowan and Frederick Reines report the detection of the elusive particles, and confirmation of the existence of antineutrinos, in an apparatus consisting of two tanks with 200 liters of water and an array of scintillators and photomultiplier tubes. The work would win the Nobel Prize nearly four decades later.
Science/Politics

October 1956

A Solid-State Maser

In an article in Physical Review, Nicolas Bloembergen of Harvard University proposes a new maser design using solid-state materials in a multiple-energy-level system.

Photo Credit: Dutch National Archives, The Hague

April 1957

FORTRAN

At a time when punchcards are used for data entry, IBM introduces the first FORTRAN compiler. The language will go on to dominate scientific and research computing for decades to come.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

OSA History

July 1957

Governance Crisis

In the wake of the resignation of long-serving volunteer society secretary Arthur C. Hardy, JOSA editor Wallace R. Brode writes an editorial detailing governance changes to handle the society's increasingly rapid growth—and giving hints of the significant professionalization of OSA management that would begin to take root two years later.

Photo Credit: OSA Photo Archive

Science/Politics

October 1957

Sputnik 1

The first artificial satellite, launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in what is now Khazakstan, makes its way into Earth orbit. The event is commonly recognized as the beginning of the Soviet-U.S. “Space Race.”

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Science/Politics

December 1957

Theory of Superconductivity

Nearly half a century after the discovery of superconductivity, John Bardeen, Leon Cooper, and John Robert Schrieffer publish their “BCS theory,” the first microscopic theory of the phenomenon, in Physical Review.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Science/Politics

1958

The International Geophysical Year

A landmark in worldwide scientific collaboration, the IGY would bring results ranging from the discovery of Earth's magnetosphere to the Antarctic Treaty for scientific cooperation in study of the southern polar regions.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Science/Politics

1958

Anderson Localization Discovered

In 1958, Philip Anderson predicted the localization of electronic wavefunctions in disordered crystals and the resulting absence of diffusion.
OSA History

March 1958

Birth of OSA Fellow Memberships

At its 51st meeting, the OSA Board of Directors approved the establishment of a new class of Fellow members, a special category of members to be elected by a two-thirds majority of the Board for having served with distinction in the advancement of optics. Photo is of Dorothy Nickerson, named to the first class of OSA fellows for her contributions in the fields of color quality control, technical use of colorimetry, the relationship between color stimuli and color perception, and others.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Science/Politics

May 1958

Insights on Genetic Disease

The French scientists Jérôme Lejeune, Marthe Gautier, and Raymond Turpin establish that the genetic cause of Down syndrome is an extra copy of chromosome 21.

October 1958

First Transatlantic Jet Service

The British state-owned airline BOAC begins regular service from London to New York, using the world's first production commercial jetliner, the de Havilland DH 106 Comet.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Science/Politics

December 1958

Toward “Optical Masers”

In a landmark paper in Physical Review, Arthur Schawlow and Charles Townes lay out the resonant-cavity and pumping requirements to extend masers into the infrared and optical domains.

Photo Credit: Dan Rubin, June 1958

OSA History

December 1958

Optika i Spektroskopie

OSA's Board moves forward with plans to publish a translated edition of a Russian language journal (translated title Optics and Spectroscopy, with the first publication to appear in 1959. A $74,750 grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation would underwrite the first three years' translation and publication.

Photo Credit: OSA

Science/Politics

June 1959

The Laser Gets Its Name

At the Ann Arbor Conference on Optical Pumping, University of Michigan, USA, Gordon Gould first publicly uses the word "laser"—a term he had coined in lab notes at the end of 1957.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

OSA History

September 1959

Professionalizing OSA's Management

The September issue of JOSA announces that spectroscopist Dr. Mary Warga of the University of Pittsburgh Department of Physics has accepted an offer to become the society's first full-time executive secretary. Warga immediately sets to work setting up a permanent society headquarters in Washington, D.C., and working to build a governance structure that can keep up with the society's growth.

Photo Credit: OSA Photo Archives

Science/Politics

April 1960

First Weather Satellite

The United States launches TIROS 1, the first weather satellite, on 1 April, and Echo 1, the first communications satellite, on 13 May.

Photo Credit: NASA

Science/Politics

April 1960

Rabinov’s “Reading Machine”

Jacob Rabinov’s celebrated “best match” method for optically decoding characters, the basis of many subsequent real-world systems, is one of some 229 patents earned by the prolific inventor during his lifetime.

Photo Credit: NIST

Science/Politics

May 1960

The U-2 Incident

The downing of a U.S. spy plane by the Soviet Union, and the capture of its pilot, Francis Gary Powers, becomes a milestone incident in the Cold War.
Science/Politics

May 1960

The First Working Laser

Theodore Maiman, at Hughes Research Laboratories, demonstrates the first working laser. The device uses a synthetic ruby one cm in diameter, pumped by an external flashlamp. It works in pulsed mode only; several months later, Ali Javan, William Bennett, and Donald Herriott will construct the first working gas laser, capable of continuous-wave operation.

Photo Credit: AIP / Hecht collection

OSA History

1961

OSA's Executive Committee Established

In 1961, the Executive Committee was established, composed of the President, Executive Secretary, and three other board members.
Science/Politics

1961

First Fiber Laser

Eli Snitzer demonstrated the first optical fiber laser.
Science/Politics

April 1961

First Human Spaceflights

Yuri Gagarin's single-orbit flight on Vostok 1, launched 12 April, is followed by suborbital flights by U.S. Mercury astronauts Alan Shepard in May and Virgil Grissom in July, and by a second Soviet orbital flight in August.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

August 1961

The Berlin Wall

Construction begins on the iconic barrier between East and West Berlin, which will remain standing until 1989.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Science/Politics

November 1961

First Laser Surgery

A team at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York, N.Y., reports the first clinical use of a laser, to destroy an abnormal growth of retinal blood vessels in a patient. The procedure, while not successful, demonstrates the laser's medical potential only a bit more than a year after the laser's first demonstration.
OSA History

1962

Applied Optics Appears

After a year of intensive planning and preparation, the first issue of OSA's second major journal title is published, under the editorial direction of future OSA President John N. Howard.

Photo Credit: OSA

March 1962

Q-Switching Reported

F.J. McClung and R.W. Hellwarth of Hughes Research Laboratory report boosting laser power by orders of magnitude by using electrically switched Kerr cell shutters. The technique, known as quality- or Q-switching, brings lasers into the arena of industrial applications, such as welding, requiring high peak powers.

Photo Credit: Appl. Opt., doi: 10.1364/AO.1.S1.000103

OSA History

March 1962

Mees Medal Unveiled

At a dinner session at OSA's March 1962 meeting, a new OSA honor, the C.E.K. Mees International Medal, is announced. The medal, endowed by a donation from Mees' family, is to be awarded to scientists whose work exemplifies the international spirit of the motto on the medal's face: "Optics Transcends All Boundaries."

Photo Credit: OSA Photo Archives

Science/Politics

September 1962

Diode Laser Invented

Robert N. Hall at the General Electric Research Development Center in Schenectady, New York operated the first semiconductor diode lasers 
Science/Politics

October 1962

Cuban Missile Crisis

The complex crisis begins with the observation, by an American U2 spy plane using a camera and lens designed by James G. Baker (OSA president in 1960), of Soviet nuclear-weapons deployments in Cuba, and ends with the Soviets standing down and agreeing to remove the missiles two weeks later.

December 1962

The First LEDs

In a paper in Applied Physics Letters coauthored with S.F. Bevacqua, Nick Holonyak Jr., a General Electric scientist, reports the emission of visible red light from a gallium arsenide phosphate diode—a feat that will earn Holonyak the sobriquet “Father of the LED.” A few months later, in Reader's Digest, Holonyak will predict that LED-based lights will ultimately replace incandescent lighting.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

OSA History

1963

OSA Launches "Optics"

Optics--An Action Program establishes optics education and outreach as a permanent tenet of the Society.
Science/Politics

October 1963

Heterostructure Lasers Proposed

Herbert Kroemer in the U.S. and Zhores Alferov in the USSR separately propose lasers created from semiconductor double heterostructures, a landmark in solid-state laser technology. Heterostructures will go on to become the the dominant lasers in communications, consumer technologies and other areas. Kroemer and Alferov will share half of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physics for the discovery.

January 1964

New Lasers Proliferate

The year sees the creation of, among others, pulsed ion lasers, which expand available wavelengths; the first fiber lasers and amplifiers; the carbon dioxide laser, which sets new industrial standards for power in a continuous-wave laser; the neodymium-doped YAG (Nd:YAG) laser, which will become a workhorse in many medical applications; and the first published report of active mode-locking, essential in developing ultrafast laser pulses.

Photo Credit: Kermit Murray, 1997

April 1964

Laser Holograms

At Spectra-Physics, Emmett Leith and Juris Upatnieks offer the first display of laser holograms of 3-D objects.

Photo Credit: Juris Upatnieks

May 1964

Cosmic Microwave Background

Working on the problem of radio wave detection from communications satellites, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson are surprised to discover a low-frequency background hum that would eventually be interpreted as the thermal echo of the Big Bang.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

OSA History

October 1964

Optics—An Action Program

A symposium at OSA's 49th annual meeting reviews the status of a program established by the society a year earlier to stimulate research and education in optics—and to mark a newly energized commitment to education and outreach that would characterize the society for the rest of its first hundred years.
Science/Politics

April 1965

Moore's Law and Optical Lithography

In an article titled “Cramming more components onto integrated circuits” in the magazine Electronics, Gordon Moore, the director of R&D at Fairchild Semiconductor, first articulates his celebrated prediction on the exponential growth of computer processing power.

Photo Credit: Electronics magazine

December 1965

An Increasingly Global Reach for OSA

By the publication of its 1965 directory, OSA's membership includes 328 individuals from 38 countries outside of North America—a tenfold increase from pre-World War II levels.

Photo Credit: OSA

OSA History

1966

OSA Turns 50

Membership reaches 4,500 as the society marks half a century of service.

Photo Credit: OSA Historical Archives

OSA History

March 1966

Taking Stock of 50 Years

The month of March features a landmark history of OSA‘s first 50 years by Hilda Kingslake, published in JOSA, and a 50th anniversary OSA meeting in Washington, D.C., including invited papers by Charles Townes, Willis Lamb, and other luminaries.

April 1966

Hovercraft Service on English Channel Begins

“Hovering across the channel” would continue until the retirement of the last two vessels in October 2000.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

OSA History

June 1966

OSA Begins Translating and Publishing Soviet Journal of Optical Technology

Starting on seed money from the U.S. National Science Foundation, the society will subsequently continue to publish the translated journal—often at a financial loss—for decades.

Photo Credit: OSA

Science/Politics

July 1966

Birth of Optical Fiber Communications

Charles Kao and George Hockham at Standard Telecommunications Laboratories in Harlow, U.K., discover how to transmit light over long distances via glass fibers. Kao will later receive the 2009 Nobel Prize in physics for his work.

Photo Credit: Nortel / OSA Historical Archives

Science/Politics

October 1966

Kastler Wins Physics Nobel

The Nobel Committee recognizes Alfred Kastler's research on optical pumping, which was an important step toward the maser and laser.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

March 1967

Tunable Dye Laser

Bernard Soffer and Bill McFarland invent the tunable dye laser at Korad Corp. in Santa Clara, Calif., USA.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia / Han-Kwang, AMOLF Institute, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Science/Politics

June 1967

War in the Mideast

The Six-Day War, between the states of Israel and an alliance of Egypt, Jordan and Syria, resets the geopolitical clock of the region.

October 1967

Computer-Generated Holograms

In a paper in Applied Optics, D.P. Paris and Adolf Lohmann report their invention of “binary fraunhofer holograms, generated by computer.”

Photo Credit: OSA, Applied Optics

OSA History

October 1967

OSA Technical Council

At the suggestion of OSA Member Lucien M. Biberman, the society creates a council, consisting of the chairs of its growing list of ad hoc technical groups, to help shape the scientific content of OSA meetings.

December 1967

First Heart Transplant

Christian Barnard performs the pathbreaking surgery in Cape Town, South Africa.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Science/Politics

June 1968

Rainbow Holography

The invention of white-light transmission holography by Stephen Benton makes the mass production of holograms possible.

Photo Credit: MIT Museum

Science/Politics

December 1968

Earthrise

On Christmas Eve, in what will become a significant cultural touchstone—and will be called “the most influential environmental photo ever taken”—Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders captures the first color image of Earth from space.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

July 1969

Humans on the Moon

Astronaut Neil Armstrong’s “one small step” leaves a human footprint on the lunar surface. Among the material left behind when he and fellow Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin return to Earth is a corner-cube mirror array that will allow the first laser-ranging measurements of the distance between the Earth and the moon.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

OSA History

September 1969

Jarus Quinn Becomes OSA Executive Director

Quinn's 24-year tenure will ultimately bring a range of changes to the society, including the relocation of its headquarters in Washington, D.C., and a significant reconfiguring of its publishing program.

Photo Credit: OSA Historical Archives

Science/Politics

October 1969

Digital Imaging Begins

Willard Boyle and George E. Smith invent the charge-coupled device at AT&T Bell Labs, describing it as a “Charge ‘Bubble’ Device” in their notebook.

October 1969

First Light for ARPANET

The first successful message is sent over the U.S. Defense Department’s new experimental network, to Stanford University, by a graduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles. The network would ultimately evolve into the Internet.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

January 1970

World's First Jumbo Jet

A Boeing 747 flown by Pan Am, with 322 passengers and 18 crew members, makes its first commercial passenger flight to London from New York.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Science/Politics

January 1970

Optical Trapping Invented

In a paper in Physical Review Letters, Arthur Ashkin of AT&T Bell Labs reports the trapping of atoms using radiation pressure from laser light. The work gives rise to the field of optical tweezing and trapping, which has led to major advances in physics and biology.
Science/Politics

June 1970

Advances in Semiconductor Lasers

Groups at Bell Labs and the Ioffe Physico-Technical Institute produce the first continuous-wave, room-temperature semiconductor lasers, paving the way for commercialization of fiber communications and a wide variety of other applications.
Science/Politics

August 1970

Low-Loss Optical Fiber

Robert Maurer, Peter Schultz and Donald Keck of Corning report the first optical fiber with losses below 20dB/km, demonstrating the feasibility of fiber for communications.
OSA History

October 1970

OSA's Spectroscopy Award Debuts

The first award—endowed by the family of, and named for, spectroscopy pioneer and OSA Honorary Member WIlliam F. Meggers—goes to George R. Harrison.

Photo Credit: OSA Historical Archives

Science/Politics

October 1970

Excimer Laser Emerges

N.G. Basov and colleagues, at the USSR”s Lebedev Institute, report the invention of the “excited dimer” laser, which would become a key ultraviolet-light source.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

January 1971

The Aswan High Dam Opens

The dam, built across the Nile River, generates hydroelectricity and has had a significant impact on Egypt's economy.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Science/Politics

April 1971

Free Electron Laser Outlined

In a paper in Journal of Applied Physics titled “Stimulated emission of bremsstrahlung in a periodic magnetic field,” John Madey outlines the principles for the free electron laser.
Science/Politics

December 1971

Gabor Receives Nobel Prize

OSA Honorary Member Dennis Gabor is given the Nobel Prize in Physics for his discovery of holography.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

OSA History

February 1972

First OSA Topical Meeting

The meeting, on Integrated Optics—Guided Waves, Materials, and Devices, is held in Las Vegas, Nev., USA, and draws 268 scientists from 11 countries. It marks the start of a highly successful OSA program of topical meetings that continues today.
Science/Politics

June 1972

DFB Lasers

Working at Bell Labs, Herwig Kogelnik and Charles Shank pioneer the notion of using gratings to stabilize the output frequencies of semiconductor lasers. The result, the distributed-feedback laser (DFB), would become crucial to optical communications.
Science/Politics

September 1972

Quantum Well Lasers

Charles Henry develops the concept of the quantum well—extremely thin semiconductor laser structures that improved performance because of very high quantum efficiencies.
Science/Politics

April 1973

Mobile Phones

Motorola's Martin Cooper makes the first handheld mobile phone call in New York City.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

November 1973

The Beginnings of Genetic Engineering

In Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen report on the creation of functional DNA plasmids that combined and replicated genetic information from different species.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

OSA History

February 1974

Mass Producing Low-Loss Fibers

John MacChesney and Paul O'Conner of Bell Labs apply for their first patent on modified chemical vapor deposition, the process they have developed to form ultratransparent glass that can be mass produced into low-loss optical fiber. The process remains the standard for manufacturing fiber-optic cable.
OSA History

June 1974

Barcodes Become Commercial

A pack of Wrigley's chewing gum is the first product read by a barcode scanner in a grocery store.

Photo Credit: Curt Suplee, National Science Foundation

Science/Politics

November 1974

Lucy Discovered

Donald Johanson discovers bone fossils of a female skeleton given the name "Lucy" and estimated to be from a time 3.2 million years earlier.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

OSA History

February 1975

Optics News Debuts

The ancestor of Optics & Photonics News begins publishing, targeting a quarterly publication schedule.

Photo Credit: OSA Historical Archives

Science/Politics

April 1975

End of the Vietnam War

North Vietnamese troops capture Saigon.
OSA History

June 1975

Two New OSA Awards

The society begins awarding the Ellis R. Lippincott Award, for significant contributions to vibrational spectroscopy (first recipient: Paul Julienne), and the R. W. Wood Prize, recognizing an outstanding discovery, scientific or technical achievement, or invention in the field of optics (first recipient: Juris Upatnieks).

Photo Credit: OSA Historical Archives

July 1975

Détente in Space

A Soviet Soyuz spacecraft docks with a U.S. Apollo craft, signaling an end to the “space race” between the two superpowers.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Science/Politics

August 1975

Helsinki Accord Signed

The 35-nations agreement addresses multiple global issues including European security, human rights and East-West contacts.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Science/Politics

December 1975

Commercial Semiconductor Laser

Engineers at Laser Diode Labs create the first commercial continuous-wave semiconductor laser operating at room temperature. The CW operation will allow transmission of telephone conversations.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

January 1976

OSA Turns 60

Shortly before the society's 60th birthday, its membership tops 6,500. The next ten years will see growth of more than 40% in OSA's member base—and the establishment of some of its most visible and enduring programs, from OFC and CLEO to Optics Letters and the Student Chapters.

Photo Credit: Wikicommons

Science/Politics

March 1976

Toward Free Electron Lasers

Stanford University researchers John Madey, Luis Elias, William Fairbank, Alan Schwettman and Todd Smith publish results in Physical Review Letters demonstrating optical gain from free electrons in a constant magnetic field. The experiment sets the stage for development of free electron lasers.
Science/Politics

April 1976

A Company Called Apple

Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak (along with entrepreneur Mike Markkula, co-signer of a US$250,000 loan) form Apple Computer Company.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Science/Politics

June 1976

A New Source for Longwave Light

MIT Lincoln Laboratory researchers Jim Hsieh, J.A. Rossi and J.P. Donnelly build an InGaAsP laser emitting continuously at 1.1 micrometers at room temperature. They publish their findings in Applied Physics Letters. This work serves as the first of many sources for long-wavelength lightwave systems.
Science/Politics

June 1976

The World's Tallest Building

The CN Tower in Toronto opens to the public and is the world's tallest freestanding structure. In 1995, the tower is recognized as one of the Wonders of the Modern World.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Science/Politics

July 1976

A Perfect 10

At the Montreal Olympics, Romanian gymnast Nadia Comăneci receives the first ever perfect score. The 14-year-old would go on to win five medals, including three gold, at the Games.

Photo Credit: Nadia Comaneci 1976 Paraguay stamp.

Science/Politics

June 1977

GPS Launches

A NAVSTAR Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite launches aboard an Atlas E/F rocket from Vandenburg Air Force Base, Calif., USA. Developed by Roger Easton, the NTS-2 relied on a passive ranging technique and atomic clocks. The satellite laid the foundation for modern GPS systems.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons/USAF

OSA History

July 1977

Optics Letters

OSA's third journal, founded with the specific aim of providing rapid publication of cutting-edge results, begins publication under the leadership of its first editor-in-chief, Robert W. Terhune. Manuscripts were limited to three printed pages, including tables and figures.

Photo Credit: OSA

Science/Politics

July 1977

First Human MRI

Raymond Damadian, Michael Goldsmith and Larry Minkoff run the first scan of a healthy human body using their newly completed magnetic resonance imaging system at New York's Downstate Medical Center.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Science/Politics

October 1977

A Patent for Optical Pumping

Gordon Gould receives a patent for optical pumping. The laser industry is now worth $400 million annually and optical pumping is used in about 80% of all lasers.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Science/Politics

December 1977

COIL Gets its Start

W.E. McDermott, N.R. Pchelkin, D.J. Benard and R.R. Bousek demonstrate the first chemical oxygen iodine laser at the Air Force Weapons Lab.

Photo Credit: Acronymsandslang

Science/Politics

January 1978

Aerosol Ban

Sweden becomes the first nation to announce that it will ban aerosol sprays containing chlorofluorocarbons, after reports suggest they may damage the Earth's ozone layer.
Science/Politics

May 1978

Photosensitive Silica

Kenneth Hill and coworkers at the Canadian Communication Research Center discover the photosensitivity of germanium-doped silica. Their paper describing the finding is published in Applied Physics Letters.
OSA History

October 1978

OSA's Handbook of Optics

At the 1978 OSA annual meeting in San Francisco, Calif., USA, the “long awaited” volume—a joint publishing project of OSA and McGraw-Hill—is makes its first public appearance.

Photo Credit: OSA

December 1978

LaserDiscs for Consumers

The new technology receives a somewhat tepid reaction from consumers when it hits the market.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

OSA History

1979

Poster Papers Debut

Poster Papers are added to OSA meetings.

Photo Credit: OSA

OSA History

1979

New Home for OSA Headquarters

OSA purchased 1816 Jefferson Place, Washington, DC, USA, which would be its home for the next decade.

Photo Credit: OSA

OSA History

March 1979

OFC Connects the World

The Optical Fiber Communications conference, which would grow into one of the world's largest meetings on fiber optics and optical communication, grew out of an earlier event, the Optical Fiber Transmission meeting.

Photo Credit: iStock

March 1979

A New Format for Music

Philips demonstrates a compact disc audio player and optical disk. Working with Sony, Philips achieves a final disc diameter of 12 cm and a final resolution of 16 bits. This work set the standard for digital optical recording systems.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Science/Politics

June 1979

MITI Initiates Optoelectronics Project

Japan's Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) initiates the Optoelectronics Joint Research Laboratory as a six-year research project between industry and the government.
Science/Politics

December 1979

VCSELs Achieved

Haruhisa Soda, Ken-ichi Iga, Chiyuki Kitahara, Yasuharu Suematsu develop an AsP/InP surface emitting semiconductor laser, publishing their work in the Japanese Journal of Applied Physics. Vertical cavity surface emitting lasers will prove a key component in high-speed networks.
OSA History

1980

OSA's New Treasurer

F. Dow Smith, 1974 OSA President, and also a long-time member of the Finance and Investment Committee, is appointed treasurer.

Photo Credit: OSA

May 1980

A Volcano Awakens

Mt. St. Helens erupts. The lateral blast releases 24 megatons of thermal energy. The eruption clouds reaches 80,000 feet in less than 15 minutes.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

OSA History

May 1980

Honoring Charles Hard Townes

A new OSA award in the laser pioneer's name is established “for outstanding work in the field of quantum electronics.” The first two recipients: James Gordon and Herbert Zeiger, Townes” collaborators on the first maser.

Photo Credit: OSA

June 1981

CLEA + CLEOS = CLEO

The iconic annual Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics gets its start from the merger of two earlier meetings, the Conference on Laser Engineering and Applications (begun in 1967) and the Conference on Laser and Electro-Optical Systems (begun in 1976).

Photo Credit: Bryan Tong Minh/Wikimedia Commons

Science/Politics

October 1981

Nobel Prize Recognizes Laser Spectroscopy Research

Nico Bloembergen and Art Schawlow receive the Nobel Prize in Physics for “their contributions to the development of laser spectroscopy.”

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Science/Politics

November 1981

Lasers For Biology

Samuel Blum, Srinivasan Rangaswamy and James Wynne observe the effect of ultraviolet excimer laser light on biological materials. They determine that the laser makes precision cuts that may be useful for surgery.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Science/Politics

January 1982

Holograms on Credit Cards

VISA begins putting holograms on its cards to discourage forgery.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

OSA History

January 1982

New Award

The Joseph Fraunhofer Award/Robert M. Burley Prize is established to recognize significant accomplishments in optical engineering.

Photo Credit: OSA

OSA History

January 1982

Max Born Award established

The Max Born Award recognizes contributions to physical optics.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Science/Politics

February 1982

Laser Lithography Laid Out

Kanti Jain publishes the first paper and gives the first talk on excimer laser lithography.

Photo Credit: ECE Illinois

OSA History

March 1982

OSA's First Student Chapter

In the March-April 1982 edition of Optics News, OSA announces “the birth of its latest offspring”: the first of its student chapters, started on the petition of nearly 40 students from the University of Rochester, N.Y., USA. Over the next 34 years, the program will grow to encompass more than 350 chapters distributed worldwide.

Photo Credit: OSA

Science/Politics

June 1982

Ti:Sapphire Lasers Come Online

Peter Moulton of MIT's Lincoln Lab reports on the first Ti:Sapphire laser to generate short pulses in the picosecond and femtosecond ranges. The laser replaces dye laser for tunable and ultrafast applications.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Science/Politics

October 1982

First Commercial Music CD

Singer Billy Joel's “52nd Street” compact disc is released commercially in Japan ushering in what would become a major shift in how consumers listen to music.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Science/Politics

January 1983

AIDS Virus Isolated

French doctors isolate the human immunodeficiency virus, which is responsible for AIDS. This marks the beginning of research to develop treatments for the disease.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Science/Politics

April 1983

Stereolithography Invented

Charles "Chuck" Hull invents stereolithography, the forerunner of 3-D printing. He received a patent for the technique in 1986.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Science/Politics

May 1983

A Tool to Amplify DNA

Kary Mullis develops the polymerase chain reaction—sometimes called “molecular photocopying—a technique to create thousands of copies of a specific sequence of DNA. He would win the 1993 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work. PCR would revolutionize molecular biology research, laying the foundation of the genomic and biotechnology revolution.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Science/Politics

June 1983

Reshaping the Cornea with Lasers

Ophthalmologist Stephen Trokel and IBM researchers Rangaswamy Srinivasan and Bodil Braren conduct experiments on reshaping the cornea with excimer laser light. They publish their findings in the American Journal of Ophthalmology in December, launching the field of laser-based refractive surgery.
OSA History

January 1984

JOSA Becomes Two Journals

Sixty-seven years and more than 63,000 published pages after its first issue, the flagship journal of The Optical Society splits into two separate editions—JOSA A, focused on “Optics and Image Science,” and JOSA B, covering “Optical Physics.” The transition is deftly managed by new JOSA editor-in-chief Robert W. Terhune, fresh from completing his tenure at the helm of Optics Letters.

Photo Credit: OSA

Science/Politics

December 1984

Winding Down British Rule in Hong Kong

Margaret Thatcher and Zhao Ziyang agree that the Britain will transfer Hong Kong back to China in 1997.
Science/Politics

March 1985

A New Leader for the Soviet Union

Mikhail Gorbachev becomes leader of the Soviet Union. He transforms domestic and foreign policy.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Science/Politics

July 1985

Optical Molasses

Steven Chu and colleagues at Bell Laboratories, USA, create “optical molasses,“ using laser beams to slow and manipulate atoms. The group also developed the first optical trap to hold chilled atoms in place. Chu will share the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics for his research with Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, then at the Collège de France, and William D. Phillips, at the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology, who also did pioneering work in optical trapping and sub-Doppler cooling.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

November 1985

Windows 1.0

Microsoft Corp. releases its first version of Windows.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Science/Politics

December 1985

Chirped Pulse Amplification

Donna Strickland and Gerard Mourou demonstrate chirped pulse amplification of femtosecond laser pulses. The technique increases laser peak power and enables the field of relativistic optics.

Photo Credit: OSA

OSA History

January 1986

OSA Begins Eighth Decade

The next ten years will see a relocation to the society's current headquarters, a 75th-anniversary celebration, the expansion of CLEO to new regional meetings, and OSA's first forays in a new medium, the World Wide Web.

Photo Credit: Wikicommons

Science/Politics

April 1986

Nuclear Disaster Strikes the USSR

The Chernobyl nuclear reactor explodes, releasing radioactive material across much of continental Europe.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Science/Politics

May 1986

No Need for Electronic Repeaters

Bell Labs researcher Linn Mollenauer describes an all-optical fiber system that transmits signals using optical solutions. He predicts that a single fiber could deliver 100 Gbit/sec over thousands of kilometers without electronic repeaters.

Photo Credit: Wikicommonns

OSA History

July 1986

Board of Editors Established

In a change to the organization's by-laws, OSA creates a new board responsible for coordinating editorial and journal activities, with the chair of the board to sit on OSA's board of directors. Previously, individual journal editors had sat on the board.

Photo Credit: Courtesy John W. Thomlinson, Princeton, NJ

July 1986

Say Cheese

Fujifilm develops QuickSnap, a disposable camera that uses 35-mm film. Kodak follows a year later with the Fling, based on a 110 film cartridge.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

OSA History

August 1986

John Tyndall Award Founded

The August issue of Optics News announces the creation of an award to recognize “outstanding contributions to fiber optic technology.” The first recipient of the annual award, the following January, is Robert D. Maurer of Corning Glass Works, for his work in the materials and techniques for glass fiber waveguides.

Photo Credit: OSA Historical Archives

September 1986

Er-doped Fiber Amplifiers

Sir David Payne and his colleagues at the University of Southampton develop an erbium-doped fiber amplifier with a peak gain of 26 dB at 1536 nm. This is the start of practical all-optical transmission.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Science/Politics

January 1987

Easy on the Eyes

Vistakon, a division of Johnson & Johnson, introduces Acuvue, disposable soft contact lenses for the consumer market. The company’s patented stabilized soft molding process makes mass production possible.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

OSA History

October 1987

Advancing Engineering

Recognizing a changing membership, and a changing industry, OSA establishes an engineering council in late 1987, and subsequently endows an Engineering Excellence Award that is first presented in 1989, and subsequently is named to honor Paul Forman.

Photo Credit: OSA

December 1987

Reducing Missile Threats

Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan sign the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in Washington, DC. The document eliminates nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 300 and 3,400 miles.

Photo Credit: Ronald Reagan Library / Wikipedia

January 1988

Perestroika

The Soviet Union initiates perestroika, a restructuring program aimed at improving the Soviet economy.

Photo Credit: Andrei Sdobnikov / Wikipedia

January 1988

Fiber Laser

Polaroid researchers led by Elias Snitzer develop a high power double clad offset core neodymium fiber laser.

Photo Credit: OSA Historical Archives

Science/Politics

November 1988

An Internet “Worm”

Robert Tappan Morris of Massachusetts Institute of Technology launches the first computer worm. The Morris worm distributes itself throughout the Internet.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Science/Politics

December 1988

A New Prime Minister for Pakistan

Benazir Bhutto becomes the first woman to lead the government of a predominately Islamic state.

Photo Credit: iFaqeer / Wikipedia

Science/Politics

March 1989

Massive Oil Spill

The tanker Exxon Valdez spills 11 million gallons of oil into Alaska's Prince William Sound after running aground. The worst spill ever at the time, the incident kills an estimated 250,000 seabirds, 2,800 otters and 300 harbor seals.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Science/Politics

April 1989

Cold Fusion?

In a paper in a journal of electrochemistry, Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischman reported that they had accomplished nuclear fusion at room temperature—a claim that was subsequently widely debunked as other scientists were unable to replicate their results. “Cold fusion” subsequently became a shorthand term for fanciful or junk science.

Photo Credit: George Frey

OSA History

June 1989

Heading Across Town

OSA relocates to a new building at 2010 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC (near the city's famous “Embassy Row)“—the site of its headquarters ever since.

Photo Credit: OSA Historical Archives

Science/Politics

October 1989

Nobel Prize in Physics

Hans Dehmelt shares the Nobel Prize in Physics with Wolfgang Paul for the ion trap, a method of precisely measuring ions and subatomic particles.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

November 1989

Fall of the Berlin Wall

Citizens demolish sections of the cement curtain between East and West Germany. Their hand tools are soon replaced by bulldozers.

Photo Credit: F. Lee Corkran / Wikipedia

OSA History

January 1990

Divvying Up Applied Optics

OSA's key applied-science journal splits into three sections: Optical Technology (renamed Optical Technology and Biomedical Optics in 1995), Lasers & Photonics (renamed Lasers, Photonics and Environmental Optics in 1992), and Information Processing.

Photo Credit: OSA

OSA History

January 1990

ON Becomes OPN

As part of a larger proposal to rename OSA “The Optics and Photonics Society,” the flagship magazine of the society, Optics News, is renamed Optics & Photonics News. Ultimately, members decide against the society's name change—but the rechristening of the magazine sticks.

Photo Credit: OSA

Science/Politics

February 1990

The Beginning of Apartheid's End

As part of the dismantling of apartheid, South African President F.W. de Klerk releases activist Nelson Mandela from prison.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

April 1990

All Eyes on Hubble

The Hubble Space Telescope launches into a low Earth orbit. It is a cooperative effort between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Space Telescope Science Institute. Hubble cost $2.5 billion to build.

Photo Credit: NASA / Wikimedia Commons

Science/Politics

October 1990

Revealing the Human Genome

The Human Genome Project begins.

Photo Credit: DOE Human Genome project / Wikimedia Commons

August 1991

Here comes the World Wide Web

On the internet newsgroup alt.hypertext, CERN computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee publishes “a short summary of the World Wide Web project,” the combination of desktop browser software and flexible communication protocol that would subsequently reshape worldwide communications. The first web site, info.cern.ch, runs on a NeXT computer at CERN.

Photo Credit: Coolcaesar at en.wikipedia

August 1991

A Soviet Coup

A coup in the Soviet Union leads to the house arrest of Mikhail Gorbachev. The action draws worldwide condemnation—and countries such as Estonia, Latvia, Ukraine and Belarus begin to declare their independence from the USSR.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Science/Politics

September 1991

Dead Sea Scrolls Access

The Huntington Library in Los Angeles makes the Dead Sea Scrolls available for examination by qualified scholars.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

OSA History

November 1991

A 75th Anniversary Celebration

In its annual meeting in San Jose, California, OSA marks three quarters of a century of growth. Highlights include a 75th anniversary symposium featuring luminaries such as Nicolaas Bloembergen, Herwig Kogelnik and Arthur Schawlow, and “How I Got into Optics” and “Optics in 1916” exhibits in the meeting's main exhibit hall.
Science/Politics

November 1991

Optical Coherence Tomography

In a celebrated paper in Science research team including James Fujimoto, Carmen Puliafito, Kenton Gregory, David Huang, Eric Swanson and others reports on the first demonstration of optical coherence tomography, a noninvasive imaging method that uses light to reveal cross-sections of tissue. The technique would subsequently grow into an extremely important commercial technology and platform.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Science/Politics

December 1991

End of the Cold War

The USSR's legislative body, the Supreme Soviet, formally dissolves the Soviet Union.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

January 1992

Exoplanets Exist

Radio astronomers Aleksander Wolszczan and Dale Frail announce discovery of two planets orbiting Pulsar PSR 1257+12. These are the first exoplanets ever detected.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Science/Politics

April 1992

AIDS Concert

Over 1 billion people view the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert at Wembley Stadium, which raises millions of dollars for AIDS research.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Science/Politics

July 1992

World Record for Data Storage Density

Working with Carnegie Mellon colleagues, Eric Betzig and a Bell Labs team squeeze 45 billion bits of data into a square-inch of disk space using a novel magneto-optical data storage technique. The bits were as small as 60 nm.

Photo Credit: Howard Hughes Medical Institute/

OSA History

September 1992

A New OSA Medal Honors Entrepreneurship

OSA and the Society for Imaging Science and Technology (IS&T) establish the annual Edwin H. Land Medal, recognizing pioneering entrepreneurial creativity.
OSA History

January 1993

Recognizing Educational Excellence

OSA establishes the Esther Hoffman Beller Medal to acknowledge contributions to education in optical science and engineering.

Photo Credit: OSA

Science/Politics

January 1993

European Union Comes into Force

The signed Maastricht Treaty initiates the European Union. Treaty provisions include creation of the "euro," the union's common currency, as well as its governing bodies—the Commission, Parliament and the Court of Justice.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

OSA History

May 1993

Jarus Quinn Retires

After nearly a quarter-century of service, OSA's long-standing executive director ends his tenure at OSA. In recognition of the immense growth and change at the organization during his leadership, he is awarded the society's Distinguished Service Award. By the end of the year, OSA will rename its top award the Frederic Ives Medal/Jarus Quinn Prize create an endowment fund in Quinn's name to increase this prestigious award's cash value.

Photo Credit: OSA

Science/Politics

September 1993

Homing in on Single Cell Imaging

Eric Betzig and colleagues use near-field scanning optical microscopy to generate high-resolution fluorescence images of cytoskeletal actin within mouse cells. This work suggests the possibility of imaging single fluorescent molecules.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Science/Politics

December 1993

Fixing Hubble

Equipped with COSTAR, the optical solution to Hubble's fuzzy vision, Hubble transmits stunning images of the solar system. Ball Aerospace completed the COSTAR project in just 28 months.

Photo Credit: NASA

Science/Politics

March 1994

Quantum Dot Lasing

Nikolai Ledentsov demonstrates operation of a quantum dot laser with high density at the A.F. Ioffe Physico-Technical Institute.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Science/Politics

April 1994

Quantum Cascade Lasers

A Bell Labs team develops the first quantum cascade laser. Jerome Faist, Federico Capasso, Deborah Sivco, Carlo Sirtori, Albert Hutchinson and Alfred Cho create a semiconductor laser that emits multiple wavelengths as a result of quantum wells.

Photo Credit: Bell Labs

Science/Politics

April 1994

Elections in South Africa

The first fully multiracial elections are held in South Africa, signaling the end of apartheid. Nelson Mandela is elected president.

Photo Credit: Wikicommons / Paul Weinberg

May 1994

The Chunnel

The tunnel between France and England running under the English Channel opens. It took 15,000 workers and 7 years to complete but permits travel between the two countries in just 35 minutes.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

OSA History

September 1994

CLEO's Global Footprint

The top conference in lasers and optoelectronics holds the first of its new non-U.S. CLEO-branded meetings, CLEO/Europe, in Amsterdam, Netherlands on [date]. The following year, the first CLEO/Pacific Rim will be held in Chiba, Japan.

Photo Credit: OSA Historical Archives

OSA History

December 1994

Wading into the Web (and More)

OSA moves into the new communications vehicle, the World Wide Web, and ups its game in electronic communications with its OpticsNet web site; which debuts on [date], its initial e-newsletters OSA Contents and OSA Early Notice, also appearing in 1994; and its first CD-ROM, delivered in 1995 and including the entire 1994 volume of Optics Letters as well as the Optics Index.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

May 1995

Extending Nuclear Nonproliferation

Over 170 countries sign an indefinite extension to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.

Photo Credit: Jon Levy/AFP/Getty Images)

June 1995

Super-cool Atoms

Eric Cornell and Carl Wieman at the University of Colorado, Boulder NIST-JILA lab create the world's first Bose-Einstein condensate in a super-cooled gas of rubidium atoms. Shortly thereafter, Wolfgang Ketterle, working at MIT, identifies key properties of the condensate. All three share the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physics for their work.

Photo Credit: NIST/JILA/CU-Boulder