Monday, May 17, 2010

Celebrating Laser's 50th Anniversary

I took this picture when arriving to San Jose Convention Center to collect my badge and conference materials package at around 2:30 p.m. on Sunday. CLEO/QELS 2010 has began and welcomes us!

I've been looking forward to the 50th Anniversary of Laser symposium. Like many of you, I am sure. It was surprising how many people succeeded to arrive that early to attend this remarkable event. I almost felt spoiled having so many distinguished scientists in one session. The memories in their presentations were flashing at us with the old scanned photographs, original hand-written equations and raw data collected with the first laser, together with the well-known pictures and graphs from the old articles that we have seen used in the Lasers textbooks. It truly makes you feel like you are in the middle of some significant experiment, at the edge of the great discovery - the Laser.

The Symposium started with the opening words by Prof. Konstantin Vodopyanov from Stanford University. The first symposium speaker was Kathleen Maiman, Theodore Maiman's widow. I have learned from her and from the next speaker, Jeff Hecht, who is an independent science and technology writer, about the unique personality of Theodore Maiman that enabled him to accomplish the first demonstration of laser radiation with ruby. He had to face a lot of "It's not gonna work," but the discouragements did not stop him, did not turn him away from his great goal. It took a person with Theodore Maiman's mindset to achieve the first demonstration of laser generation. Luckily, such a person was there, just at the right time, to succeed.

Profs. Tony Siegman and Orazio Svelto, the authors of two famous books on lasers, chronologically outlined the events associated with the first laser demonstration. Prof. Siegman spoke about laser resonators and the famous Fox and Li theory of modes in a plane-parallel laser cavity and about the first resonators. I still remember reading throught he original 30-page paper in Bell Systems Technologies Journal, 1961, and all the slides with the pictures from the paper seemed so familiar.

Prof. Nicolaas Bloembergen, who shared the 1981 Nobel Prize in Physics with Arthur Shawlow and Kai Siegbahn for their work in laser spectroscopy, shared with us some recollections about ruby masers and lasers. Prof. Charles Townes, the pioneer in maser invention and a witness of the first laser, told the actual story how it all happened and how the first maser saw the world. He also mentioned that Russian scientists Basov and Prokhorov independently developed the idea of maser in Soviet Union and shared the 1964 Nobel Prize in Physcics with Townes.

Dr. Kumar Patel from Pranalytica, Inc. told about the arrival of the first high-power CO2 lasers and about the development of quantum-cascade lasers. Dr. Marshall Nathan from IBM shared with us his story about the realization of the first semiconductor laser at IBM. The session was concluded by Dr. Edward Moses from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory who shared with us the news about the recent progress in Inertial Confinment Fusion (ICF) experiments, achieved at the laboratory, and national ignition facility, that makes it likely for ICF to go live within the next couple of decades to produce a new source of power. I liked his recollection about his first experience with lasers, in which he tells that as soon as he saw HeNe laser extending its beam across the room, he realized that he will follow this beam for decades.

It all went very well, and was very interesting. Before my post is too long, I'd better stop to continue later about other CLEO events. It is never enough when you are writing about something as significant as the first laser.

No comments:

Post a Comment