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Historical background on lasers

Posted on05/07/2023

Read some historical background on lasers

Historical background on lasers

The possibility of creating laser-type beams of coherent light was hypothesized after Albert Einstein's 1905 work on the photoelectric effect and his 1917 work including the concept of "stimulated emission," the two fundamental princ9iples on which precisely lasers are based.
The first lasers as we know them today were finally made in 1960.


Before lasers were created the so-called "masers," these are devices that work on the same principle but emit microwaves instead of photons, this kind of working devices were first created by Charles Townes and Arthur Schawlow in 1950.

The first viable laser design that might have worked was sketched by Richard Gordon Gould

Gordon Gould, a researcher working and studying at Charles Townes' company, in 1957, probably inspired by the maser came up with the first design to create a version of the device that would emit visible light, this is the first laser ever devised, at least on paper.

At this point in the history of the laser there was a real race and war between scientists, researchers and companies to come up with the practical realization of the first working laser.

Gordon Gould did not have a way to patent his idea right away, he did, however, at least get his conception authenticated and certified, this helped him later to get partial satisfaction in the courts.

In fact, he subsequently spent a good thirty years between very intricate and complicated legal battles in order to have his authorship of the laser recognized and to obtain patents on his first conception and on subsequent ones that to all intents and purposes were used by the laser industry.

After also being cut off from laser research because of his own political background he nonetheless managed to score at least a partial first key legal victory in 1977 by obtaining a patent for a key part of this invention.

The legal battles continued furiously as the other scientists, researchers and industries involved disputed the authorship of the invention and the patents, also rejected the idea of having to pay royalties after implanting volumes of work and business that had by then become colossal, which in 1977 were estimated to already be on the $400 million annual dollars of the time.

The general reaction among the various parties involved was to appeal and implant lawsuits against Gordon Gould, try to have the patent he obtained withdrawn, and generally avoid paying him anything.

Gordon Gould focused mainly on litigation and founded a special company dedicated to just that purpose, carry on the legal battles. In 1985 he obtained from the federal court to be granted an additional patent on collision laser amplifiers, the patent office appealed, but lost, from this point on all attempts to oppose Gordon lost sense, they stopped trying to revoke the patents already approved and in essence the legal battle ceased, as a result all parties involved abdicated and agreed to make settlements with Gordon Gould, recognize his inventions and pay him royalties.

Gould's 30-year legal battle against the laser industry is known to have been the longest and most important patent battle in American history, Gordon finally won the rights to as many as 48 patents, the legal fees cost him something like four-fifths of everything he collected, yet he at least got satisfaction and a few million dollars.

In 1960 the first working laser was created

The first working laser however was created by Theodore Maiman in May 1960, this scientist made the first solid ruby laser thus paving the way for other researchers to invent many other different types of lasers.

Basically then, wanting to summarize this very intricate history, of which, moreover, we have only mentioned a few main details above, Charles Townes and Arthur Schawlow invented the maser, not exactly the laser but its precursor, nevertheless they are often cited as the first inventors of the laser, Gordon Gould invented the laser on a theoretical level and for thirty years struggled to have his rights recognized, finally, at least this much is certain, it was Theodore Maiman who was the first to succeed in the practical feat of creating an actual working laser.

Nonetheless even today there is dispute about who really invented the laser first, however, in my opinion for this case it can be said that none of the parties involved could have invented the laser without the contribution of the other parties starting from the discoveries of Einsten and many other scientists, this affair clarifies how patents as they are today are on the one hand advantageous and useful when all goes well, but on the other hand also a possible cause of injustice, huge waste of time and oppression of scientific research.

From 1960 to the present many variants of lasers have been invented

From 1960 onward after Maiman once the practical method of making a laser was understood and popularized in a short time many variants were invented, for example a few months later the uranium laser was invented by IBM, the helium-neon laser at Bell Laboratories in 1961, the semiconductor laser at General Electric in 1962 by Robert Hall, again at Bell Laboratories the Nd: YAG and the CO2 laser in 1964, and again the argon-ion laser in 1964, the chemical laser in 1965, the metal-vapor laser in 1966, and so on...

As you can guess from the above many different materials can be used to create a laser!

Evolution of laser technology

Today lasers can be built in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, from tiny compact lasers that have a volume of a few cubic millimeters to giant lasers that occupy buildings as large as many Olympic sports fields.

Since 1960, lasers have not only been perfected to very high levels compared to the first ones that were made, but they have also become commonplace and widespread, found in a remarkable range of everyday objects, for example in CD players and printers.

Find out how lasers work

In other articles in our blog, if you don't know about and are interested, you will find information on how lasers work. Once you understand the principles that allow the creation of the laser phenomenon this aspect of the ample variety of materials and methods that can be used will no longer be surprising.

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