This timeline attempts to capture the important breakthroughs, innovations, articles, individuals, and events in the history of optics and photonics. Please note that it is a work in progress; your comments and contributions are welcome. You may use the Contribute page to submit your suggestions.
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First hybrid silicon laser - light generated in InP semiconductor diode laser is collected and guided in a silicon waveguide -John Bowers UCSB and Intel group
Roy J. Glauber, John L. Hall and Theodor W. Hansch awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their contributions to the development of laser-based precision spectroscopy, including the optical frequency comb technique.
Optics researchers in Canada developed a liquid-crystal lens with a focal length that can be adjusted by applying a voltage made. The lens, which is flat, could have applications in mobile phones, laser cavities and surveillance equipment.
Measured for the first time the length of time that light spends outside a piece of glass when it undergoes total internal reflection. Found that there are in fact two of these Wigner delays, and not just one as first suggested by Newton - Albert Le Floch and colleagues at the University of Rennes, France
Scientists at EPFL in Switzerland devised a clever way to control the speed at which pulses travel along an optical fibre
Fabricates a laser diode bar that emits a record-breaking 454 W of continuous-wave infrared (940 nm) light - Jenoptik Laserdiode, Germany
Developed an optical superlens that breaks the optical diffraction limit. This technology may revolutionize the fields of optical imaging, lithography, as well as high density data storage - Professor Xiang Zhang, University of California-Berkeley and group
First adjustable lens. The first such lens was described in Appl Optics in 1984 by Steven Kowel and colleagues - Optics researchers in Canada
Photocurable nanoimprint lithography produces lines of polymer resist just 7 nm wide with a pitch of only 14 nm.
The highest resolution optical image to date produced - Lukas Novotny from the University of Rochester and colleagues from the University of Rochester and the University of Harvard
"Slow" and "fast" light created in a crystal at room temperature for the first time. A team at the University of Rochester used an 'alexandrite' crystal to reduce the speed of light to just 91 metres per second, and also to make a laser pulse travel faster than the speed of light.
Optical camouflage system developed by Japanese scientists.
Terahertz pioneering contributions to free-space terahertz optics.
Stop and Store light in a solid material - Researchers at MIT: Alexey Turukhin
Awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for th e achievement of Bose-Einstein condensation in dilute gases of alkali atoms, and for the early fundamental studies of the properties of the condensates - Eric Cornell, Carl Wieman, and Wolfgang Ketterle
Developed the first pill sized endoscopic capsule with a camera - Given Imaging
Concept of an optical clock demonstrated.
Awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for basic work on information and communication technology" "for developing semiconductor heterostructures used in high-speed- and opto-electronics" - Zhores I. Alferov and Herbert Kroemer
Optical Frequency Comb Technique research -John Hall & Theodor Hansch
The first laser is approved for LASIK surgery by the FDA.
Awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for the development of methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light -Steven Chu, Claude Cohen-Tannoudji and William D. Phillips
Wolfgang Ketterle at MIT created the first atom laser.
Laser-Induced Differential Normalized Fluorescence Method for cancer diagnosis - B. F. Overholt, M. Panjehpour, and Tuan Vo-Dinh
Creation of the world's first Bose-Einstein condensate - Eric Cornell and Carl Wieman
The Quantum Cascade Laser is invented and demonstrated - Frederico Capasso, Alfred Cho (Bell Labs), Jerome Faist, Albert Hutchinson, Carlo Sirtori, and Deborah Sivco
Optical Biopsy System (OBS) developed - Judith Mourant
COSTAR - Corrective optics repair flaw in Hubble Space Telescope's defective primary - Murk Bottema and Ball Aerospace
Develop a magneto-optic data storage technique that can squeeze 45 billion bits of data into a square-inch of disk space. - Eric Betzig, Pat Flymm, Mike Gyorgy, Jay Trautman, and Ray Wolfe
Optical Disc Storage System ("SERODS" for use in supercomputer memory). - Tuan Vo-Dinh
First develops the optical coherence tomography (OCT) technique. - James Fujimoto
Demonstrate optical amplifiers that are built into the fiber-optic cable itself. - Emmanuel Desurvire, P. J. Mears, and David Payne
Nanotubes discovered. - Sumio Iijima
The Hubble space telescope was positioned in a low Earth orbit.
Introduces fiber amplifiers that are "doped" with the element erbium. These new optical amplifiers are able to boost light signals without first having to convert them into electrical signals and then back into light. - David Payne
Digital Light Processing (DLP) is invented.
Optical interferometer telescope arrays are built in the late 1980's.
First disposable camera for photography.
Optical Transistor--Self-Electro Optic-Effect Device, or SEED, the transistor involved a light-sensitive switch built with layers of gallium arsenide and gallium aluminum arsenide. - David Miller of AT&T Bell Labs
Fiber-optic cable across the English Channel in service. - STC Submarine Cables
Described x-ray laser experiments in which amplified spontaneous emission was observed at wavelengths around 20nm. - Dennis L. Matthews et al
Single-mode fiber spreads across America to carry long-distance telephone signals at 400 million bits per second and up.
Lasers are used in surgery.
By splicing a short strand of erbium-doped glass into the main fiber, the system would receive energy from an eternal source and act as a laser in its own right. By amplifying a weak optical signal with out electronic circuitry. This dramatically increased the carrying capacity (100 times) over systems utilizing electronic amplifiers - SB Poole Univ. of Southampton
Lays first submarine fiber to carry regular traffic. - British Telecom
Published the first paper and gave the first talk on excimer laser lithography. - Kanti Jain
Visa begins putting laser holograms on credit cards to discourage forgery.
Performs field trial of single-mode fiber, changes plans abandoning graded-index in favor of single-mode - British Telecom, John Midwinter
Leases right of way to install single-mode fiber from New York to Washington. The system will operate at 400 million bits per second at 1.3 micrometers. This starts the shift to single-mode fiber in America. - MCI
Observed the effect of the ultraviolet excimer laser on biological materials. Intrigued they investigated further, finding that the laser made clean, precise cuts that would be ideal for delicate surgeries. - Samuel Blum, Srinivasan Rangaswamy, and James Wynne
First transatlantic fiber cable is laid with glass so transparent that amplifiers are only needed about every 40 miles - Bell Labs, Peter Runge and Patrick Trischitta
Awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics "for their contributions to the development of laser spectroscopy". - Nicolaas Bloembergen and Arthur Schawlow
Invent a scanning tunneling microscope that gives three-dimensional images of objects down to the atomic level. - Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer
The first confirmation of soliton generation in optical fibers - Linn F. Mollenauer
Fibers produced that were so transparent that a signal could pass through 150 miles of fiber before becoming too weak to detect.
Optical interferometer telescope arrays are built.
Invents the Illusion Transmitter. This futuristic invention extends the idea of television, with its images located flatly behind a screen, to having three dimensional projections appear as though they were right in your living room.
Discover photosensitivity of Germanium-doped Silica. - Kenneth O'Hill and coworkers
NTT Ibaraki Lab makes single-mode fiber with record.
NTT transmits 32 million bits per second through a record 53 kilometers of graded-index fiber at 1.3 micrometers.
Sends first live telephone traffic through fiber optics, 6 Mbit/s in Long Beach, CA. - John Fulenwider at General Telephone & Electronics
Announces one-million hours (100 year) extrapolated lifetime for diode lasers. Bell Labs
Make the first fibers with low loss, 0.47 decibel per kilometer at long wavelengths, 1.2 micrometers. - Masaharu Horiguchi of NTT Ibaraki Labs and Hiroshi Osanai of Fujikura Cable.
A group at Stanford University demonstrated the first free electron laser (FEL). - John M. J. Madley
The first Kurzweil Reading Maching introduced which included the first CCD (charge coupled device) flabed scanner and the first omni-font OCR (optical character recognition) software.
Makes InGaAsP lasers emitting continuously at 1.25 micrometers. - J. Jim Hsieh
Awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics "for the discovery of the connection between collective motion and particle motion in atomic nuclei and the development of the theory of the structure of the atomic nucleus based on this connection." - James Rainwater
First commercial continuous-wave semiconductor laser operating at room temperature (the continuous-wave operation allows the transmission of telephone conversations). Engineers at Laser Diode Labs
Calculate pulse spreading should be zero at 1.27 micrometers. - David Payne and Alex Gambling at University of Southampton
Develop a new technique for making high-quality glass fiber for lightwave transmission. - John B. MacChesney and Paul B. O'Connor
Developed a modified chemical vapor deposition process that heats chemical vapors & oxygen to form ultra transparent glass that can be mass-produced into low-loss optical fiber. The process still remains the standard for fiber-optic cable manufacturing. - John MacChesney and Paul O'Connor at Bell Labs
Propose the use of optical fibers to transmit information via single waves. - Hasegawa and Tappert
Pioneered the Distributed-Feedback (DFB) Laser. - H. Kogelnik and C. V. Shank
Make multimode germania-doped fiber with 4 decibel per kilometer loss and much greater strength than titania-doped fiber. This breakthrough resulted in fibers that were transparent enough to make fiber-optic communication a reality. - Donald Keck, Robert Maurer and Peter Schulz
Launches the instant color camera. - Kodak
Modulates Lasers at 1 Bbit/s. - Standard Telecommunication Labs
Demonstrates digital video over fiber optics to Queen Elizabeth at the Centenary Celebration of the Institution of Electrical Engineers. - Murray Ramsay of Standard Telecommunication Labs
Awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics "for his invention and development of the holographic method" - Dennis Gabor
ARPAnet, the precursor to the Internet, links 23 central computer hosts.
In a paper entitled "Stimulated emission of bremsstrahlung in a periodic magnetic field", Madey outlined the principles of the free electron laser. - John M. J. Madey
First observation of Optical tweezers. - Arthur Ashkin
Designed and produced the first optical fiber with optical losses low enough for wide use in telecommunications - Donald Keck, Robert Mauer and Peter Schultz
World's first laser driven lighthouse open in Australia (Point Danger)
First continuous-wave room-temperature semiconductor lasers made.
Optical Reading Machine patented. - Jacob Rabinow
Prepared the first batch of optical fiber hundreds of yards long and were able to communicate over it with crystal clear clarity. Simultaneously a group at Bell Labs developed a semiconductor laser that could operate at room temperature. - Corning Glass Work scientists
Zhores Alferov's group at the Ioffe Physical Institute and Mort Panish and Izuo Hayashi at Bell Labs produce the first continuous-wave room temperature semiconductor lasers, paving the way toward commercialization of fiber optics communications.
Invented the first Optical Reading Machine. - Jacob Rabinow
Invent Charge Couple Devices (CCD). - Willard Boyle and George Smith
Demonstrates fiber optic transmission at Physics Exhibition in London. - Martin Chown of STL
In the late 1960's, J. R. Arthur and A. Y. Cho of Bell Labs developed molecular-beam epitaxy or MBE. Using this technology laser action could be generated efficiently using less current.
NASA launches the first satellite equipped with a laser beam. Earth-based laser transmit information to orbiting satellites in 1968-1969. Astronauts place laser reflectors on the moon.
Apollo 8 takes the first photograph of the Earth from Space.
Measure intrinsic loss of bulk fused silica at 4 decibels per kilometer, the first evidence of untransparent glass, prompting Bell Labs to seriously consider fiber optics. - M. W. Jones and Kao
White light (rainbow) transmission holography developed. This invention made mass production of holograms using an embossing technique possible. - Stephen Benton
Invented the computer generated hologram. - D. P. Paris and A. W. Lohmann
Awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for "the discovery and development of optical methods for studying Hertzian resonances in atoms". - Alfred Kastler
Built the first organic dye laser. - P. Sorokin and JR Lankard
Landmark paper demonstrating that optical fiber can transmit laser signals and much reduced loss if the glass strands are pure enough. - George Hockman and Charles K. Kao of Standard Telecommunication Laboratories in England.
Invented the Optical Card Translator System. - Jacob Rabinow
Described studies of the propagation of very short optical pulses through a medium consisting of resonant two level atoms, developing in the process the criteria to be satisfied by the shape of the pulse so that it would propagate as an optical soliton (the area theorem) and describing the propagation mechanism of self-induced transparency (SIT). - E. L. Hahn and S. L. McCall
Invented the compact disc. - James Russell
Jacob Rabinow invented the following; Optical Logic Reading Machine, Optical Character Reading Machine with a Photocell Mosaic Examining Device, Photosensitive Optical Scanning Device for Meter Indicators and an Optical Mask Reading Machine.
Vehicle guidance by optical means was patented. - Jacob Rabinow
Reported the first generation of picoseconds laser pulses using a Nd:glass laser and a saturable absorber. They reported simutanous Q-switching and mode-locking with 100's of megawatts of peak power. - Hynau, DeMaria, and Stetser
The first operation of the CO2 gas dynamic laser was accomplished by a group headed by A. Kantrowitz at AVCO-Everett Research Labs. This laser was the first seriously considered laser weapon which was surpassed by the chemical lasers.
Awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics "for fundamental work in the field of quantum electronics, which has led to the construction of oscillators and amplifiers based on the maser-laser principle." - Nikolai Bosov, Aleksandr M. Prokharov and Charles H. Townes
Inventor of the holographic spatial filter for matched filtering. - A. B. Vander Lugt
Described the photodissociation Iodine laser. - Jerome V. V. Kasper and George C. Pimentel
Invented the Optical Reading Machine with Rotary Masks. - Jacob Rabinow
Discovered the first ion lasers. - William B. Bridges
Reported the first demonstration of a mode locked laser, i.e. a He-Ne laser, with an acousto-optic modulator. - Fork, Hargrove and Pollock
Created a model for photodetection and explained the fundamental characteristics of different types of light, such as laser light. - Roy J. Glauber
Invented the High-Speed Optical Identification of Printed Matter and Electro-Optical Scanning System for Reading Machines. - Jacob Rabinow
Independently proposed ideas to build semiconductor lasers from heterostructure devices. - Zhores Alferov and Herbert Kroemer
Developed the first carbon dioxide laser. - C. Kumar N. Patel
Proposed the idea of Heterostructures, combinations of more than one semiconductor built in layers that reduce energy requirements for lasers and help them work more efficiently. These heterostructures will later be used in cell phones and other electronic devices. - Herbert Kroemer
Proposes flexible thin-film waveguide. - Karbowiak
Produces the first white-light viewable hologram. - Denis Yuk
Four groups nearly simultaneously make first semiconductor diode lasers, but they operate only pulsed at liquid-nitrogen temperature. - Four groups in the US (R. N. Hall et, M. I. Nathan et al, T. M. Quist et al, N. Holonyak and S. F. Bevacqua)
Simultaneously develop a gallium arsenide laser that converts electrical energy directly into infrared light. - Three groups at GE, IBM and MIT's Lincoln Laboratory
Reported the first use of an acousto-optic cell to modulate and frequency translate lasers beams.Acousto-optics cells are still in wide use to-day. - Anthony DeMaria
Developed holographic techniques that allowed the images of 3-D real world objects to be captured on photographic film. - Emmett Leith and Juris Upatnieks
Discovered laser Q-switching. - R. W. Hellwarth and F. J. McClung
Reported the first operation of a Nd:glass laser. This laser become the first candidate for R&D as a laser weapon. It is presently the prime candidate as a laser source for fusion. - Elias Sntizer
Demonstrated harmonic generation from light by passing the pulse from a ruby laser through a quartz crystal. - P. A. Franken, A. E. Hill, C. W. Peters and G. Weinreich
Proposes hollow optical pipeline made of reflective pipes. - Charles C. Eaglesfied
Demonstrate a laser beam directed through a thin glass fiber. - Will Hicks and Elias Snitzer
First medical use of the ruby laser. - Charles Campbell and Charles Koester
Inventor of the first ruby laser. - Theodore Maiman
Began investigating hollow optical waveguides with regularly spaced lenses. - George Goubau at Army Electronics Command Lab, Bell Telephone Labs and Standard Telecommunications Labs
Invented the first gas laser (helium-neon) laser. - Ali Javan
Introduces the term laser in a seminal paper, "The LASER: Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation". - Gordon Gould
The first photographs of the Far Side of the Moon are taken by Soviet satellite Luna III.
Working with Will Hicks, American Optical draws fibers so fine they transmit only a single mode of light. Elias Snitzer recognizes the fibers as single-mode waveguides.
Demonstrates the first small-scale photocopying machine. - Chester F. Carlson
Concept of laser introduced. - Charles H. Townes and Arthur L. Schawlow
First envisioned the Optical Disk, or VIDEODISK as he named it. - David Paul Gregg
Demonstrates the first small-scale photocopying machine. - Hal Anger
The first to test the fiber-optic endoscope in a patient. - Basil Hirschowitz
Patented optical coincidences devices. - Jacob Rabinov
Makes the first glass-clad fibers by a rod-in-tube method. - Larry Curtiss
Awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics "for his discoveries concerning the fine structure of the hydrogen spectrum". - Willis Lamb
Confocal scanning microscope. - Marvin Minsky
Patented the first magnetic computer memory to use a disc instead of a tape for data storage. - Jacob Rabinow
Built first ammonia maser. - James P. Gordon, Charles H. Townes and Herbet J. Zeiger
Publish separate papers in Nature. Hopkins and Kapany report imaging bundles of unclad fibers; van Heel reports simple bundles of clad fibers. - Harold H. Hopkins, Narinder S. Kapany and Abraham C. S. Van Heel
Publishes first report of clad fiber in Dutch-language weekly De Ingeneur after submitting brief paper to Nature. - Abraham C. S. Van Heel
Awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics "for his demonstration of the phase contrast method, especially for his invention of the phase contrast microscope". - Frederik Zernike
Applies for a grant from the Royal Society to develop bundles of glass fibers for use as an endoscope at Imperial College of Science & Technology. - Harold Horace Hopkins
Brian O'Brien suggests to Abraham C. S. Van Heel that applying a transparent cladding would improve transmission of fibers in his imaging bundle.
Applies for a Danish patent on fiber-optic imaging in which he proposes cladding glass or plastic fibers with a transparent low-index material. Patent claim is denied because of Hansell patent. - Holger Moller Hansen
Proposed the "double resonance method", which combines optical resonance with magnetic resonance. - Jean Brossel and Alfred Kastler
Suggested a method "optical pumping" for orientation of paramagnetic atoms or nuclei in the ground state. This was an important step on the way to the development of lasers. For this research, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1966. - Alfred Kastler
In the 1950s three scientists perfected a method of screen intensification that reduced radiation exposure and improved fluoroscopic vision. Their image intensifier in fluoroscopy is now universally used in medical fluoroscopy and in military applications, including night vision. - John W. Coltman, Edward Chamberlain and Russell Morgan
The first patent for a bar code type product. - Bernard Silver and Joseph Woodland
"Optical pumping", which makes it possible to apply "optical methods for studying the microwave resonances" to the fundamental states of atoms. - Alfred Kastler
Began investigating image transmission through bundles of parallel glass fibers. - Holger M. Hansen and Abraham C. S. Van Heel
He began formulating a theory that not all atomic nuclei are spherical, as was then generally believed. The theory was tested experimentally and confirmed by Danish physicists Aage N. Bohr and Ben R. Mottelson. For their work the three scientists were awarded jointly the 1975 Nobel Prize for Physics. - James Rainwater
Publishes the seminal papers on waterfront reconstruction, later to become known as holography. Awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1971. - Dennis Gabor
Began his research into the coherent radiation of electrons, followed by pioneering work in the field of radio-frequency spectroscopy. with Nikolai Basov he created an oscillator based on the stimulated emission of electromagnetic waves by the excited molecules of a molecular beam. In the process of developing an ammonia-beam molecular oscillator, Prokhorov formulated the main principles of, and laid the physical foundation for, quantum electronics. For this work, which led to the construction of oscillators and amplifiers based on the maser-laser principle Prokhorov shared the 1964 Nobel Prize in Physics with Nikolai Basov and Charles Townes. - Aleksandr M. Prokhorov
Discovery of the shift of energy in the hydrogen atom in different states. This discovery of the quantum effect known as the "Lamb shift" led physicists to rethink the basic concepts behind the application of quantum theory to electromagnetism. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1955. - Willis Lamb
Throughout 1946 and 1947, Nicolaas Bloembergen worked on proton spin relaxation times in water and aqueous solutions under the guidance of his PhD thesis advisor, Edward Purcell, which later became the basis for the medical diagnostic technique of magnetic resonance imaging MRI.
Measured the speed of light using a Kerr cell to modulate a light beam that passed through a Michelson interferometer. - W. C. Anderson
Described the transmission interference filter. - Walter Geffcken
Invents the Phase Contrast Microscope. - Frederick Zernike
Applies for U.S. patent on two-layer glass fiber (non-optical). - Armand Lamesch
Kodachrome color film developed.
Originator of the spectrophotometer. - Arthur C. Hardy
Invented the fluorescent lamp. - George Inman and Richard Thayer (GE Scientists)
Discovery of Light emissions by a charged particle moving faster the speed of light in a medium. - Pavel Alekseyevich Cherenkov
Invented the first electron microscope. - Ernst Ruska
Invented "polaroid" polarizing film. - Edwin H. Land
Devices method to mass-produce glass fibers for Fiberglas. - Owens-Illinois
Transmission of an image of a light bulb through a short bundle of uncladded fibers reported. - Heinrich Lamm
Edwin Land creates the first synthetic heat polarized photography to avoid a glare.
Observed weak inelastic scattering of light from liquids, an effect arising from the scattering of light by vibrating molecules and now known as Raman scattering. Awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1930. - Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman
Confirmed existence of stimulated emission. - Rudolph W. Landenburg
Applying quantum theory to the structure of metals, he developed a theory of electrons in metal. - Arnold Sommerfeld
Modern flashbulb invented. - GE
Presented a method of representing the electromagnetic radiation field in quantized form. - Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac
Performed experiments to refine the measurement of the speed of light. - A. A. Michelson
Patented the concept of using hollow pipes to transmit images for television and facsimile systems. - John Logie Baird and C. Francis Jenkins
Applies for US patent on a mechanical television receiver in which light passes along quartz rods in a rotating drum to form an image. - C. Francis Jenkins
Principles of the fiber-optic imaging bundle outlined. - Clarence W. Hansell
"Leica" 35mm format camera introduced.
Awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for "his work on the elementary charge of electricity and on the photoelectric effect." - Robert Andrews Millikan
1921 Western Union sends the first electronically-transmitted photograph.