Laser Pioneers and Nobel Laureates Honored at LaserFest Event in Washington


Lyndsay Meyer
The Optical Society

Laser Pioneers and Nobel Laureates Honored at LaserFest Event in Washington

Program at Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History held to mark 50th anniversary of first working laser

WASHINGTON, Feb. 18—The organizers of LaserFest, the celebration in 2010 commemorating the 50th anniversary of the first working laser, together with the National Museum of American History co-hosted a special event Feb. 12 at the museum in Washington to honor those who have made significant contributions to the development and application of laser technology.  Honored individuals included researchers who developed the concept of the laser, demonstrated some of the first early lasers or received Nobel Prizes and other accolades for their work with lasers.

The program included a multi-media presentation, featuring videos of researchers reflecting on the development of early lasers, an address by U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, and recognition of more than a dozen laser pioneers and Nobel Laureates.  A reception for the nearly 300 attendees was also held, which included live demonstrations of the museum’s new exhibit titled “Fifty Years of Lasers,” featuring several types of lasers developed over the past half century. 

“Lasers have a rich history that conveys how basic scientific research, dedicated researchers, friendly collaboration and a bit of helpful serendipity can combine to produce immensely important results,” said Anthony Siegman, LaserFest Technical Advisory Committee member and co-host of Friday’s event.  “In the case of the laser, these factors led to one of the greatest and technologically most important inventions of the 20th century.  It was an honor to be able to recognize those in the scientific and engineering communities who are responsible for this transformative technology.”

Laser pioneers, Nobel Laureates and special guests who were honored at the event include:

Charles Townes, Nobel Laureate, whose long and distinguished career in basic science and in public service includes fundamental work in the field of quantum electronics, which led to the construction of the first microwave and then optical-frequency oscillators and amplifiers based on the maser-laser principle, beginning with his invention of the first man-made stimulated-emission device, the ammonia maser, in the early 1950s.

James Gordon, who, as a graduate student, worked with Charles Townes to construct the first ammonia maser and during a subsequent career at the Bell Telephone Laboratories made many fundamental contributions to optical communications.

Nicolaas Bloembergen, Nobel Laureate, who invented an important early microwave maser and made subsequent widely-hailed contributions to nonlinear optics and to the development of laser spectroscopy.

Theodore Maiman, the late researcher and inventor who demonstrated the first working optical-frequency maser, or laser—a solid-state ruby laser that first generated an intense beam of pulsed red light on May 16, 1960 at the Hughes Research Laboratories (HRL) in Malibu, Calif.

Victor Evtuhov, a member of Maiman's team at HRL, co-author of several of the early publications on the ruby laser, and who was subsequently responsible for many additional advances in laser technology.

Ali Javan, who, working in the Bell Telephone Laboratories during the late 1950s, conceived and developed the basic concept of laser systems using gas discharges, and subsequently brought this concept to fruition by operating the first successful gas laser,  the well-known and widely-used helium-neon laser.

Kumar Patel, who, not long afterward, invented the carbon dioxide laser—the first gas laser to produce industrially useful high-power radiation continuously.

Elsa Garmire, who, as a graduate student working with Townes at MIT, first demonstrated important nonlinear effects produced by powerful laser beams acting on atoms and molecules.

Daniel Kleppner, who, as a graduate student at Harvard University, collaborated in the development of a hydrogen maser, which provides the foundation for extraordinary stable atomic clocks and atomic wavelength standards.

Tingye Li, who, during a long career at Bell Laboratories, collaborated in developing crucial early understanding of laser cavities and subsequently made pioneering contributions to laser-based communication through optical fibers.

Steven Chu, Nobel Laureate and current U.S. Secretary of Energy, who developed laser-based methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light.

Roy Glauber, Nobel Laureate, who made fundamental and widely-used contributions to the quantum theory of optical coherence and the understanding of laser physics.

John Hall, Nobel Laureate, who made many noteworthy contributions to the development of laser-based precision spectroscopy and precision measurement techniques, including the optical frequency comb technique.

William Phillips, Nobel Laureate, who developed laser-based methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light.

Through its collaboration in LaserFest, the scientific community will endeavor to inform students, educators, legislators, funding agencies and the general public about the immense impact the laser has had and continues to have on science, medicine, communications, industrial technology, and many areas of everyday life, and the continuing importance of scientific and technological innovation. Educational outreach will focus on raising awareness of the laser as a transformative technology by highlighting today's laser innovations and tomorrow's possibilities.

About LaserFest

LaserFest, a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the laser, emphasizes the laser's impact throughout history and highlights its potential for the future. Through a series of events and programs, LaserFest showcases the prominence of the laser in today's world. Founding Partners of LaserFest are the American Physical Society (APS), the Optical Society (OSA), SPIE, and the IEEE Photonics Society. For more information, visit

EDITOR’S NOTE: Photos of the event are available upon request.  Please contact Lyndsay Meyer, or 202.416.1435.




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