May 14, 2010
Fifty years ago this weekend, the Laser Age began - an era that
has been as revolutionary as the Space Age. It's thought that half of
America's gross domestic product is somehow connected with laser
When Theodore Maiman turned on the first pulsed laser at the
Hughes Research Laboratory in California on May 16, 1960, few could have
imagined how much of an impact the devices would have on
communications, manufacturing, medicine (and concert light shows). But
CHARLES TOWNES had a pretty good idea.
After all, it was his work with microwave amplification by
stimulated emission of radiation - masers - that set the stage for the
optical lasers to come. In fact, he and others theorized that lasers
could be built a couple of years before Maiman did it. Townes' research
earned him a share of the 1964 Nobel Prize in physics.
Today, at the age of nearly 95, TOWNES IS STILL A WORKING
SCIENTIST AT THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA [BERKELEY], doing research in
astrophysics. And when you talk with him on the phone, you get the
impression that his intellect is still as sharply focused as a
In an interview, Townes looked back at the first 50 years of the
Laser Age - and looked ahead to the next phase of the revolution....
[Link to interview transcript]