Today in History -May 16, 1960 – Theodore Maiman develops the first ruby laser, one of the first functional optical lasers while at the Hughes Aircraft Company. Maiman (left photo) was influenced by articles by Charles H. Townes at al.: J.P. Gordon, H. J. Zeiger and C.H. Townes, Physics Review, 95 (1954) 282 and J. P. Gordon, H. J. Zeiger and C. H. Townes, Physics Review, 99 (1955) 1264.
There appears to have been quite a competition between Maiman and Townes (photo second from left) in developing the first functional laser. Townes patented the maser (Microwave Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation) on March 24, 1959, using ammonia gas and microwave radiation – a laser that doesn’t use optical light. Although Maiman was nominated for a Nobel prize, the 1964 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Charles Townes (50%) and Basov and Prokhorov (each 25%). Maiman was awarded 1983/84 Wolf Prize in Physics and the Japan Prize in 1987. He also holds patents on masers, laser displays, optical scanning, and laser modulation. Until his recent death on May 5, 2007, Maiman served as director of the Control Laser Corporation and a member of the advisory board of Industrial Research Magazine.
Gordon Gould was the first person to use the word “laser” (Light Amplification by the Stimulated Emission of Radiation). And he may have created the first light laser. As a doctoral student at Columbia University under Charles Townes, he built an optical laser starting in 1958 but failed to file for a patent for his invention until after other laser researchers had filed their own patents. In 1997 after many legal battles, Gould was awarded the first patent for the laser. He was inducted into the Inventor’s Hall of Fame in 1991.
For more information, see the Engineering Pathway’s educational resources on applied physics or view our Electrical Engineering Education community site. Also see Laserium inventor Lisa Garmire’s blog on the Maser patent of March 24, 1959.