OSA | Living History

60 Years of Lasers.
Pump up the Light.

60 years of laser innovation


On 16 May 1960, building on earlier work by OSA Members Charles Townes and Arthur Schawlow, as well as numerous others, Theodore Maiman fired the first working laser. The pink ruby laser emitted mankind's first coherent light, and the world was forever changed.

The new horizons opened by the laser spurred an intense interest in applying optics to new problems. The breadth of those applications is hard to overstate. Only a few years after the first laser demonstration, the ability to create bright, coherent beams had exposed unusual forms of light-matter interaction that had never been seen before—and given birth to the enormously fruitful field of nonlinear optics. Lasers found new applications in spectroscopy, surgery, biological and molecular imaging, and a range of other areas, expected and unexpected. The parallel growth of electronics, in the wake of discoveries in semiconductors and transistors, gave rise to the new field of electro-optics.


Laser Pioneers

Dr. Theodore Maiman of Hughes Research Laboratories, with the first working laser. Photo Credit: HRL Laboratories, LLC

Theodore Maiman
OSA Fellow

Charles Townes standing with the second ammonia beam MASER at Columbia University, 1955. Photo courtesy of the AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, Physics Today Collection

Charles Hard Townes
OSA Honorary Member

Schawlow shooting at a double balloon with a toy gun that included a real laser. The gun would pop the inside blue balloon but not the clear outer one, showing that lasers could be tuned to pass through a transparent surface.

Arthur Schawlow
OSA President, 1975

James Gordon at Columbia University's Radiation Lab in 1954

James P. Gordon
OSA Honorary Member


Optics & Photonics News: The Laser at 60

Optics & Photonics News May 2020 Cover, The Laser at 60

The Laser at 60

Stewart Wills

Six decades after the first working laser was demonstrated, OPN offers a few samples of the incredibly rich field the device has created.

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OSA Fellow Interviews

For its May 2020 feature issue PN interviewed OSA Fellows working in a variety of areas of laser technology to get a reading on the laser’s progress, six decades after its initial demonstration. These interviews will be shared throughout the first half of May.


Key Laser Research & Publications

OSA Publishing Celebrates 60 years of Innovation

Commemorate 60 years of the laser with OSA Publishing as we highlight collections of published content on significant advancements in laser technology and innovation.


Laser Videos