New Web Exhibit Tells Story of Laser's Invention
College Park, NY, February 2, 2010 – Military agencies wanted a death ray, and they were willing to pay for it. That was one of the forces spurring scientists in a race that ended with the invention of the laser in 1960, fifty years ago this May. A new exhibit on the award-winning Web site of the Center for History of Physics, American Institute of Physics (AIP) tells the remarkable story of the laser's invention using the voices of the scientists themselves.
"Bright Idea: The First Lasers," which AIP created in cooperation with several leading scientific and engineering societies, is told by noted author and historian Spencer Weart, who worked with the leading historians of lasers to prepare it. Find it at: http://www.aip.org/history/exhibits/laser
"We wanted to show how difficult and exciting it was to invent the laser," says Weart. "Now you can hear it in the scientists' voices."
In a burst of creativity at the dawn of the space age, rival teams at five American corporations and universities devised three different kinds of lasers. The result was not the death ray weapons imagined in science fiction, but a revolution in communications, entertainment, medicine, and scientific research itself.
The exhibit is enlivened with sound clips from the AIP's collection of oral history interviews of scientists, plus many photographs of people, documents and objects. Viewers can read, see and hear about the curious background of ideas and social forces in the decades of development leading to the first lasers -- the half-formed ideas, near-misses, proud triumphs, and bitter controversies over who should get credit.
"The exhibit brings science to life for students and the public," says Gregory A. Good, who is the director of the Center for History of Physics at AIP.
For specific examples of exhibit features, see:
For further information on "Bright Idea: The First Lasers" or to obtain permission to use pieces of content on the Site, please contact the AIP Center for History of Physics at or 301-209-3165.
Some of the images in the Web exhibit were provided by the Electricity Collections at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. Laser objects from the collection will be on display in "Fifty Years of Lasers" at the museum beginning Feb 12. Visit http://americanhistory.si.edu and see the related press release: http://americanhistory.si.edu/news/pressrelease.cfm?key=29&newskey=1110.
LaserFest, a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the laser, emphasizes the laser's impact throughout history and highlights its potential for the future. Through a series of events and programs, LaserFest showcases the prominence of the laser in today's world. For more information, visit www.LaserFest.org.
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