The laser celebrates 50 years

There will be cake, candles, and radiated lights galore this weekend as the laser turns 50 on Sunday.

The first fully-functioning laser was invented on May 16 1960 by Theodore Maiman, but the foundations for it were in place in Albert Einstein’s paper On the Quantum Theory of Radiation in 1917. Several scientists had desperately been trying to get the proposals to work for a number of years, but Maiman beat them to it by using a flash lamp to simulate a pink ruby rod.

In the early 1950s a pre-laser technology had been developed called the maser, or more properly MASER, which is actually an acronym for “microwave amplification by stimulation of emission of radiation.” This allowed a series of atoms or molecules to generate a chain reaction, or amplification, of photons.

The laser, or LASER, on the other hand, stands for “light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation”, which is all about emitting electromagnetic radiation in the form of light. We commonly think of it as a beam of light, often fired from weapons in science-fiction movies.

The laser has been used in a variety of ways since its invention 50 years ago. It has been used in medicine for surgery and dentistry, with a rising popularity in laser eye treatments. It is widespread in industry for cutting and welding material. It is used by the military for guiding missiles and for defending against missiles, along with the rather nasty use of blinding enemy troops.

The laser is also used more commonly than we might think. For example, there’s your laser printer, where the hint is in the name. Less obvious, however, are CDs, thermometers, and barcode scanners.

Those worried about their appearance can get cosmetic treatments to reduce cellulite or get laser hair removal.

We even have laser light shows just for the visual appeal.

Indeed, if it were not for Theodore Maiman and his predecessors working so dilligently on this technology a lot of the things we use today would not be possible at all.

Let’s all give the laser a round of “For he’s a jolly good fellow.”