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Optical Society, American Physical Society to Celebrate 50th Anniversary of Laser

'LaserFest' will commemorate laser history, advancements, pioneers



Colleen Morrison
Optical Society
James Riordon
American Physical Society

WASHINGTON, September 29, 2008—The Optical Society (OSA) and the American Physical Society (APS) are partnering on LaserFest, a multi-year celebration designed to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the invention of the laser. Through a series of events and programs, LaserFest will recognize and honor the accomplishments of the pioneers who made possible the discovery, development and application of the laser, as well as inform students, educators, legislators, funding agencies and the general public about the impact of the laser and the importance of scientific and technological innovation.

The first laser was successfully operated in 1960 by Theodore Maiman at Hughes Research Lab. Since that momentous occasion, more than 55,000 patents involving the laser have been granted in the United States. Today's laser and all of its applications are the result of not one individual's efforts, but the work of a number of prestigious scientists and engineers who were leaders in optics and photonics over the course of history. These include such great minds as Charles Townes at Columbia University, who developed the maser, the precursor to the laser, and Arthur Schawlow at Bell Laboratories, who along with Townes published the key theoretical paper in 1958 that helped lead to the laser's development and who jointly were awarded the first laser patent in 1960.

"The laser is one of the most important inventions of the 20th century," said Rod Alferness, OSA president and chief scientist, Bell Laboratories, Alcatel-Lucent. "Our global community relies on this pervasive technology for advances in communications, transportation, entertainment, medical diagnostics, manufacturing and the list goes on. OSA members are not only the founders of this technology, they are the innovators of tomorrow, and LaserFest will honor the laser's influence over the last 50 years and emphasize its potential for the next 50 as well."

LaserFest organizers are planning a broad range of activities at both the local and national level. Anticipated programs include public outreach events, traveling lectures, symposia, educational demonstrations, student chapter events and more.

"There may be no better illustration of the importance of basic research than the laser," said APS President Arthur Bienenstock. "Many people realized the laser was an important development when the early papers were published half a century ago, but no one could have imagined the tremendous impact it's had on our lives ever since. In celebrating the laser, we are also celebrating the value of pure research, and all the unpredictable and revolutionary advances that only basic research can produce."

The first event fulfilling LaserFest objectives was a symposium and reception honoring Maiman at the OSA co-sponsored CLEO/QELS conference in May. Another event, in honor of Charles Townes, will be held at Frontiers in Optics, OSA's Annual Meeting in Rochester, N.Y. in October.

OSA and APS are encouraging other scientific professional societies to participate and plan events as part of LaserFest. For more information on how to participate, visit www.LaserFest.org.

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