History of the Laser

Maser | Laser | References

Foundations

In 1917 Albert Einstein, in his paper Zur Quantentheorie der Strahlung (On the Quantum Theory of Radiation), laid the foundation for the invention of the laser and its predecessor, the maser, in a ground-breaking rederivation of Max Planck's law of radiation based on the concepts of probability coefficients (later to be termed 'Einstein coefficients') for the absorption, spontaneous emission, and stimulated emission of electromagnetic radiation.

In 1928, Rudolph W. Landenburg confirmed the existence of stimulated emission and negative absorption.[6] In 1939, Valentin A. Fabrikant predicted the use of stimulated emission to amplify "short" waves.[7]

In 1947, Willis E. Lamb and R. C. Retherford found apparent stimulated emission in hydrogen spectra and made the first demonstration of stimulated emission.[8]

In 1950, Alfred Kastler (Nobel Prize for Physics 1966) proposed the method of optical pumping, which was experimentally confirmed by Brossel, Kastler and Winter two years later.[9]

The first working laser was demonstrated on 16 May 1960 by Theodore Maiman at Hughes Research Laboratories.[10] Since then, lasers have become a multi-billion dollar industry. By far the largest single application of lasers is in optical storage devices such as compact disc and DVD players,[citation needed] in which a semiconductor laser less than a millimeter wide scans the surface of the disc. The second-largest application is fiber-optic communication. Other common applications of lasers are bar code readers, laser printers and laser pointers.

Maser

In 1953, Charles H. Townes and graduate students James P. Gordon and Herbert J. Zeiger produced the first microwave amplifier, a device operating on similar principles to the laser, but amplifying microwave rather than infrared or visible radiation. Townes's maser was incapable of continuous output. Nikolay Basov and Aleksandr Prokhorov of the Soviet Union worked independently on the quantum oscillator and solved the problem of continuous output systems by using more than two energy levels and produced the first maser. These systems could release stimulated emission without falling to the ground state, thus maintaining a population inversion. In 1955 Prokhorov and Basov suggested an optical pumping of multilevel system as a method for obtaining the population inversion, which later became one of the main methods of laser pumping.

Townes reports that he encountered opposition from a number of eminent colleagues who thought the maser was theoretically impossible -- including Niels Bohr, John von Neumann, Isidor Rabi, Polykarp Kusch, and Llewellyn H. Thomas[1].

Townes, Basov, and Prokhorov shared the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1964 "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".

Laser

In 1957, Charles Hard Townes and Arthur Leonard Schawlow, then at Bell Labs, began a serious study of the infrared laser. As ideas were developed, infrared frequencies were abandoned with focus on visible light instead. The concept was originally known as an "optical maser". Bell Labs filed a patent application for their proposed optical maser a year later. Schawlow and Townes sent a manuscript of their theoretical calculations to Physical Review, which published their paper that year (Volume 112, Issue 6).

The first page of Gordon Gould's laser notebook in which he coined the acronym LASER and described the essential elements for constructing one.
At the same time Gordon Gould, a graduate student at Columbia University, was working on a doctoral thesis on the energy levels of excited thallium. Gould and Townes met and had conversations on the general subject of radiation emission. Afterwards Gould made notes about his ideas for a "laser" in November 1957, including suggesting using an open resonator, which became an important ingredient of future lasers.

In 1958, Prokhorov independently proposed using an open resonator, the first published appearance of this idea. Schawlow and Townes also settled on an open resonator design, apparently unaware of both the published work of Prokhorov and the unpublished work of Gould.

The term "laser" was first introduced to the public in Gould's 1959 conference paper "The LASER, Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation".[1][11] Gould intended "-aser" to be a suffix, to be used with an appropriate prefix for the spectrum of light emitted by the device (x-rays: xaser, ultraviolet: uvaser, etc.). None of the other terms became popular, although "raser" was used for a short time to describe radio-frequency emitting devices.

Gould's notes included possible applications for a laser, such as spectrometry, interferometry, radar, and nuclear fusion. He continued working on his idea and filed a patent application in April 1959. The U.S. Patent Office denied his application and awarded a patent to Bell Labs in 1960. This sparked a legal battle that ran 28 years, with scientific prestige and much money at stake. Gould won his first minor patent in 1977, but it was not until 1987 that he could claim his first significant patent victory when a Federal judge ordered the government to issue patents to him for the optically pumped laser and the gas discharge laser.

The first working laser was made by Theodore H. Maiman in 1960[12] at Hughes Research Laboratories in Malibu, California, beating several research teams including those of Townes at Columbia University, Arthur Schawlow at Bell Labs,[13] and Gould at a company called TRG (Technical Research Group). Maiman used a solid-state flashlamp-pumped synthetic ruby crystal to produce red laser light at 694 nanometres wavelength. Maiman's laser, however, was only capable of pulsed operation due to its three-level pumping scheme.

Later in 1960 the Iranian physicist Ali Javan, working with William R. Bennett and Donald Herriot, made the first gas laser using helium and neon. Javan later received the Albert Einstein Award in 1993.

The concept of the semiconductor laser diode was proposed by Basov and Javan. The first laser diode was demonstrated by Robert N. Hall in 1962. Hall's device was made of gallium arsenide and emitted at 850 nm in the near-infrared region of the spectrum. The first semiconductor laser with visible emission was demonstrated later the same year by Nick Holonyak, Jr. As with the first gas lasers, these early semiconductor lasers could be used only in pulsed operation, and indeed only when cooled to liquid nitrogen temperatures (77 K).

In 1970, Zhores Alferov in the Soviet Union and Izuo Hayashi and Morton Panish of Bell Telephone Laboratories independently developed laser diodes continuously operating at room temperature, using the heterojunction structure.


Notes and references

  1. a b Gould, R. Gordon (1959). "The LASER, Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation". in Franken, P.A. and Sands, R.H. (Eds.). The Ann Arbor Conference on Optical Pumping, the University of Michigan, 15 June through 18 June 1959. pp. 128. OCLC 02460155.
  2. "laser". Reference.com. Retrieved on 2008-05-15.
  3. "Schawlow and Townes invent the laser". Lucent Technologies (1998). Retrieved on 2006-10-24.
  4. Dictionary.com - "lase"
  5. G.P. Karman, G.S. McDonald, G.H.C. New, J.P. Woerdman, "Laser Optics: Fractal modes in unstable resonators", Nature, Vol. 402, 138, 11 November 1999.
  6. Steen, W. M. "Laser Materials Processing", 2nd Ed. 1998.
  7. (Italian) Il rischio da laser: cosa è e come affrontarlo; analisi di un problema non così lontano da noi ("The risk from laser: what it is and what it is like facing it; analysis of a problem which is thus mot far away from us."), PROGRAMMA CORSO DI FORMAZIONE OBBLIGATORIO ANNO 2004, Dimitri Batani (Powerpoint presentation >7Mb). Retrieved 1 January 2007.
  8. Steen, W. M. "Laser Materials Processing", 2nd Ed. 1998.
  9. The Nobel Prize in Physics 1966 Presentation Speech by Professor Ivar Waller. Retrieved 1 January 2007.
  10. Townes, Charles Hard. "The first laser". University of Chicago. Retrieved on 2008-05-15.
  11. Chu, Steven; Townes, Charles (2003). "Arthur Schawlow". in Edward P. Lazear (ed.),. Biographical Memoirs. vol. 83. National Academy of Sciences. pp. 202. ISBN 0-309-08699-X.
  12. Maiman, T.H. (1960). "Stimulated optical radiation in ruby". Nature 187 (4736): 493-494. doi:10.1038/187493a0.
  13. Hecht, Jeff (2005). Beam: The Race to Make the Laser. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-514210-1.
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               History information is from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laser#History
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