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Bright prospect: the first International Day of Light will be celebrated on 16 May. (Courtesy: iStock/RichLegg)

Topics: Applied Physics, Laser, Optical Physics, Photonics

This month sees the first International Day of Light. Wednesday 16 May was chosen because it is the anniversary of the first successful operation of the laser, as demonstrated by the American engineer and physicist Ted Maiman in 1960.

It’s a good choice, because the laser is a perfect example of how a scientific discovery can yield revolutionary benefits to society in all sorts of areas, including communications, healthcare and manufacturing. However, when I read the words “first successful operation of the laser” on the International Day of Light website (lightday.org), I had to look further, as it sounded like there might be more to the story.

I have spent most of my career working in photonics, optical communications and lighting, so I was already somewhat familiar with the laser’s history. However, the details still interested me. It turns out that although Maiman did indeed demonstrate the first working laser on 16 May 1960, he is not the only person with a reasonable claim to have “invented” the laser. The other is Gordon Gould, another US physicist who described “Some rough calculations on the feasibility of a LASER: Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation” in his lab notebook in November 1957.

A day of light, James McKenzie, Physics World

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