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Posted: February 25, 2010
Special LaserFest seminar highlights history and future of laser technology
(Nanowerk News) As part of LaserFest, the year-long celebration of the 50th anniversary of the first working laser, the Optical Society (OSA) and the American Physical Society (APS) sponsored a special day-long seminar on the birth, growth and future developments in laser science and technology at the 2010 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting. The seminar, titled "The History and Future of Laser Technology," took place Sunday, Feb. 21 in San Diego at the meeting, considered the world's largest interdisciplinary science forum.
Presenters at the first symposium, titled "Celebrating the Birth of the Laser: a Look Back After 50 Years," discussed the story of how the laser came to be and recounted the early growth of this ubiquitous device. Once an embryonic research tool with no clear applications beyond the lab, speakers noted that the laser is now recognized as a transformative technology of the 20th century with immense scientific, commercial, industrial, and societal importance. Further, its impact on how we live, from healthcare and communications to national security and entertainment continues to accelerate. Presenters included Anthony Siegman of Stanford University discussing "How the Laser Came To Be;" William B. Bridges of the California Institute of Technology, speaking on "Gas Lasers: The Early Years;" and Jeff Hecht of Laser Focus World magazine, who presented "Looking Back at How the Laser Evolved."
"There can be no better example of the impact that pure scientific research can have on society than the history of the laser," said Anthony J. Campillo, senior director of science policy at OSA and co-organizer of the first symposium. "Rivaled only by the transistor, it is a renowned illustration of how laboratory science leads to untold applications and benefits to society."
Addressing "Lasers at the Extreme," symposium organizer Thomas M. Baer, executive director of the Stanford Photonics Research Center, moderated a discussion of the newest uses of lasers involving:
Cooling and trapping atoms to generate "ultra-cold" states of matter on Earth
Laser-based-communications between transistors (replacing wires) to carry nearly all conversations and commerce at "ultra-fast" data rates; and
Experiments to create in the laboratory "ultra-hot" states of matter found only deep in space or at the center of stars by ignition and net gain.
Presenters on these topics included David N. Payne of the University of Southampton; and Edward Moses of the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL).
"This extraordinary light source enables us to probe states of matter in unique ways and study the fundamental properties of our universe," said Baer. "We can now make the coldest and hottest 'stuff' on Earth right on a table top in an optics laboratory, allowing us to extend the utility of the photon and advance our understanding of nature's fundamental building blocks."
In the symposium titled "The Next Generation of Extreme Optical Tools and Applications," scientists discussed how the newest laser-based tools and techniques expand the laser's promise for both scientific research and practical, everyday applications, for example, to:
Allow biochemists to observe chemical reactions in a single molecule as they occur;
Enable physicians to use photo-acoustic tomography, a combination of lasers and ultrasound, to penetrate deep tissue and illuminate cellular activity to detect disease; and
Permit physicists to demonstrate ignition and a self-sustaining fusion burn, which could create a sustainable source of clean energy, as well as, ultimately, safe disposal of nuclear wastes.
Presenters at this symposium included Robert L. Byer of Stanford University; Margaret Murnane of the University of Colorado, Boulder; Christopher Barty of LLNL; Keith Hodgson of SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory; Toshiki Tajima of the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics; and Wim Leemans of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
"From gamma rays to megawatts to attoseconds, developments in optical techniques at the extremes of laser light offer the potential basis for the next generation of accelerators, attosecond timescale free-frame photographs of electron motion, light intense enough to allow vacuum nonlinearity to be observed, and the direct examination of gravity waves," said Moderator Christopher Ebbers, staff physicist at LLNL. "Previous and current laser research has not only advanced the frontiers of fundamental science, it has yielded a multitude of potential practical solutions in fields as diverse as machining, energy production, and national defense. We expect that trend to continue."