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The laser turns 50 (images)

In 1960, the race to build the world's first laser came to an end as Hughes Aircraft researcher Theodore Maiman beat everyone to the punch. The laser is now 50 years old.

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Daniel Terdiman
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1 of 11 Bell Labs

Adjusting the maser

In 1958, Bell Labs researchers Charles Townes and Arthur Schawlow, having not yet made a laser, applied for a patent based on a paper they'd written on the subject. They had written in the December 1958 issue of the journal Physical Review that it was possible to extend the principles of the "maser" to the optical regions of the spectrum. They received U.S. patent number 2,929,922 in 1960, the same year that Theodore Maiman at Hughes Aircraft built the world's first actual laser.

The laser turns 50 on May 16.

In this image, likely from 1958, Schawlow works on a ruby optical maser during an experiment. At the same time, C.G.B. Garrett gets ready to photograph the flash of the maser.

A maser stands for "microwave amplification by stimulation emission of radiation," according to Stanford's Gravity Probe B program. "A laser is a maser that works with higher frequency photons in the ultraviolet or visible light spectrum."

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2 of 11 Bell Labs

Adjusting the helium neon laser

In this image, taken in 1960, Bell Labs researchers Ali Javan, William Bennett, and Donald Herriott work on their helium neon laser, the world's first laser that was capable of generating a continual light beam at 1.15 microns. The laser was also the first of its kind, an electrical discharge pumped gas laser.
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3 of 11 Bell Labs

Laser patent application

This is the patent application that eventually resulted in Charles Townes and Arthur Schawlow receiving U.S. patent number 2,929,922 in 1960, the same year that Theodore Maiman at Hughes Aircraft built the world's first actual laser.

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4 of 11 Bell Labs

The laser patent

U.S. patent number 2,929,922, granted to Bell Labs researchers Charles Townes and Arthur Schawlow, was granted for their theoretical invention of the laser. The patent was issued the same year as Hughes Aircraft's Theodore Maiman built the world's first laser.
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5 of 11 Bell Labs

The micron carbon dioxide laser

Bell Labs researcher C.K.N. Patel is seen here in 1964 with his creation, the 10.6-micron carbon dioxide laser.
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6 of 11 Raytheon

Targeting forward looking infrared pod

A look at the targeting forward-looking infrared pod, from Raytheon.
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7 of 11 Raytheon

MTS-A

A MTS-A multispectral targeting system from Raytheon.
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8 of 11 Raytheon

MTS-B

A MTS-B multispectral targeting system from Raytheon.
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9 of 11 Raytheon

Laser operations calibration lab

This is a Raytheon laser operations calibration lab located in El Segundo, Calif.
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10 of 11 Raytheon

Laser solder

Seen here, from the Raytheon advanced product center in Dallas, Texas, is a laser etching machine.
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11 of 11 Raytheon

Range test

At a laser test firing range, Raytheon tests its DAS-2 FLIR targeting pod.

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