Monday, January 25, 2010
H. Frederick Dylla

Director's Matters

Laserfest logo To mark the 50th anniversary of the invention of the laser, several scientific societies have joined together to promote LaserFest, a yearlong celebration of how this valuable tool for science has transformed our lives—from applications in manufacturing and medicine, to communication and scientific research. OSA, APS, SPIE, and IEEE Photonics Society, with dozens of additional partners including AIP and several other Member Societies, will be sponsoring LaserFest activities throughout the year. For starters, I've asked Greg Good of AIP's History Center to offer some insights on the history of this important invention. Enjoy! —Fred

Rubies and lasers in the summer of 1960

Guest column by Greg Good, director, AIP Center for History of Physics

Greg Good Scientific discovery and technological invention have long been intertwined. Such developments as the laser usually emerge from the frenzied, highly interactive, complicated, and competitive work of many individuals—in the case of the laser, shifting teams of individuals. Several characteristic institutions of modern science were involved: industrial research labs, university science departments, science conferences, and the courts and patent system.

A critical element was the "research teams," with each team focused on one or another important part of a very complicated set of interlocking problems—technical, potentially profitable, likely worthy of a Nobel Prize. The stakes were high.

Historians of science see great value in teasing apart the intricate human interactions that produce such undeniably important developments as the laser—a device now ubiquitous in entertainment, national security, and industry. Historians shrink, however, at oversimplification. Which development was the single crucial one? Who was the inventor of the laser? These questions direct us away from more important ones. At least, this is the historian's inclination. How did all these individuals interact? How did these fragmented activities coalesce into devices and knowledge that have changed our world?

Theodore Maiman (left) looks on as William Weigl, president of the National Inventors Hall of Fame Foundation, unveils a display honoring him at ceremonies in Washington, DC.  The display includes a replica Maiman's laser and is on permanent exhibit in the lobby of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Arlington, VA. Credit: AIP Emilio Segre Visual Archives, Physics Today Collection On July 8, 1960, the New York Times proclaimed on the front page: "Light Amplification Claimed by Scientist." Theodore Maiman, working for Hughes Research Laboratories in California, had produced a laser—so a press conference had announced, although no refereed scientific publication backed up the announcement.

It was not that simple, however. In 1958, Charles Townes and Arthur Schawlow, at Columbia University and Bell Labs on the East Coast, had published a seminal paper suggesting how a laser could be built. During 1959, more researchers pursued parts of the puzzle: at Columbia, Gordon Gould, William Bennett, and Donald Herriott, along with Wolfgang Kaiser and Geoffrey Garrett, pushed experimental limits.

Gould coined the term "laser" (from Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation) in a 1959 conference paper. Others tackled the engineering difficulties and the physics challenges. Albert Clogston and his Bell Labs investigators took the Hughes Lab press conference as a challenge. Donald Nelson got the go-ahead and launched a crash lab program to make a ruby laser. It's a classic story of technical knowledge, failed attempts, and ultimate success. That part of the laser story required both teamwork and competition. It required theoretical acumen and technical ingenuity. Ambiguity haunted the results. Problems ultimately were overcome.

As the saying goes, the rest is history. But history is messy, never simple. And its lessons are subtle. To reach your own conclusions, read the article "Bell Labs and the Ruby Laser" in the January 2010 issue of Physics Today (page 40); a new web exhibit at the Center for History of Physics will be unveiled shortly.

Publishing Matters

Souped-up engines for Peer X-Press

PXP AIP's Peer X-Press (PXP) service recently received a major upgrade to its conversion engines. Each day, those engines are responsible for converting more than 2,500 manuscript and reviewer files into PDF. The newest version offers significant advantages in terms of features, speed, reliability, and capacity. PXP now supports PDF conversion of Microsoft Office 2007 files and is capable of watermarking figures automatically, line-numbering manuscript files, and producing high-quality PDFs. Moreover, the software is self-updating, which means that it upgrades itself to the latest version whenever needed. Most impressive, however, is that in the first month of operation, the new conversion engines have already reduced—by more than 30%—the time the PXP support staff spends providing conversion assistance. That translates into more time for providing other support activities and for ensuring a superior author experience.

PRC Matters

DBIS celebrates 10 years of excellence in science reporting

DBIS logo
AIP is pleased to announce the 10th anniversary of the Discoveries and Breakthroughs Inside Science (DBIS) program. DBIS provides peer-reviewed science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) news in an easily understood, visual format to more than 47 million people who watch local TV news in the US and to more than 200 million people internationally. The goal of DBIS is to increase the public's awareness of and appreciation for the role of STEM researchers and STEM research in society. DBIS has a growing coalition of 23 partnering organizations that support all aspects of the program. Thanks to a grant from the National Science Foundation, AIP was able to study the impact DBIS has on audiences in different cities. Statistically significant differences were found among viewers concerning their desire to watch STEM-related news, their ability to remember the concepts, and their belief that STEM research affects them on a daily basis. Since January 2000, DBIS has been producing twelve, 90-second segments per month—for a total of more than 1,000 segments—and more than 3,000 STEM experts have contributed to the program.

Around AIP

AIP Human Resources website: a wealth of resources

AIP HR logo What is TIAA-CREF's customer service number? Which health and wellness webinars are available through INOVA's employee assistance program? Does someone want to carpool? Who should you talk to in HR about your benefits? The newly redesigned AIP Human Resources website has the answers to these and many other questions involving benefits, retirement, events, and activities. This "one-stop shop" for employees has links to the Employease Network, benefit carriers' websites, and some of our most frequently used company forms. Take some time to visit the Human Resources website today.

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