50th Anniversary of the Laser
In 1958, physicists Nikolai Basov and Alexander Prokhorov in the Soviet Union and Charles Townes in the United States invented an optical quantum amplifier emitting visible light, which led to the creation of the first laser two years later. It was dubbed “ruby laser” because it used a synthetic ruby crystal.
Numerous modifications of that very first laser have been made over past half a century. We now have gas lasers, solid-state and semiconductor-based lasers, free-electron and cascade lasers, and so on. Initially designed for military needs, they later began to be used in many other areas such as environmental probing, optical communications, machine building, thermonuclear physics, medicine, and lots of others.
A conference, “Lasers: 50 Years in Science, Technology and Medicine”, took place at the Russian Academy of Sciences earlier this week.
Academician Zhores Alferov, who was awarded the Nobel Physics prize for his research in the laser field, pointed out:
"Lasers will be applied on an even broader scale in medicine quite soon. For example, the so-called cascade lasers are widely applied for detecting and analyzing gases, including the air we breath out, and therefore can be used to diagnose respiratory and lung diseases. Quantum dot lasers, which we created in the 1990s and which have been further developed, can be very useful for medical tests: implanted as a microchip in a human body, they can permanently test our blood."
The use of laser helped Russian medics in the late 1970s to treat blood coagulation disorders and thus save hundreds of lives. Laser treatment for eye diseases marked a real breakthrough in ophthalmology.
Mr. Alferov thinks that lasers are playing a very important part in the development of nano-tech industry.
"Many achievements in nano-tech industry have root in semiconducting laser technology. So-called quantum-changing structures are first of all varieties of semiconducting lasers."
Present-day telecommunication systems also rely on a laser ray distributed through optical fiber. Actually, this is where the Internet comes from. And isn’t this enough to consider laser technology as a truly revolutionary thing? However, there is still much room for improvement. Telecommunications industry will see even more achievements after scientists unveil methods of laser space communications. Like the World Wide Web has shrouded the Earth, laser has become an invention that affects every aspect of life.