The Laser Beam Turns 50

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Laser Beams Refracting Through Prism

Visuals Unlimited/Corbis

Fifty years ago today the light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation, or the laser, was (officially) invented.

Though scientists toiled away for years to invent the ruby rod, like many inventions of years gone by, it is easy to take its impact and uses for granted.

In the late 1950s, scientists Arthur L. Schawlow of Bell Labs and Charles Townes and Gordon Gould of Columbia University were each working separately on what would become one of the most revolutionary inventions of the 20th century. Though the scientists were fierce rivals and battled over patent rights (resulting in a 25+ year court dispute), their contribution to the laser’s use in modern medicine, the military and communications cannot be over looked. Regardless, Theodore Maiman of the Hughes Research Laboratory, gets the prize for creating the first laser beam. After tweaking Schawlow, Townes and Gould’s work, Maiman shined a high power flashlight on a ruby rod, triggering a beam of coherent light and creating the world’s first laser on May 16, 1960.