Fifty years of the 'light fantastic:' Laser advances spark scientific progress

Posted By News On March 10, 2010 - 6:10pm

Fifty years after the first laser sparked a technological revolution, the "light fantastic" continues to impact people's daily lives — by playing DVDs, speeding Internet connections, and performing intricate surgery. As the golden anniversary of the announcement of the first laser approaches on July 7th, Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), ACS' weekly newsmagazine, takes a special look at the past, present, and exciting future of this amazing invention.

C&EN Senior Editor Mitch Jacoby and Assistant Editor Lauren Wolf point out that the laser has come a long way since it was first demonstrated in 1960 by Theodore Maiman. Although few people at the time could have envisioned how the device would be used, he accurately predicted that lasers would impact diverse areas ranging from industry to science. Today, the laser has become a "workhorse tool" in modern chemistry. Scientists now use it to study climate change, ultrafast chemical reactions, and disease-related proteins. Researchers are also using lasers to see inside living cells.

More advances are on the way. Scientists are developing a laser-based system for remotely detecting nerve agents and other harmful chemical and biological warfare agents. Others are developing a laser-based medical instrument that could allow earlier detection of hard-to-diagnose diseases such as lung and bladder cancers. Only time will tell what the next 50 years will bring, the article notes.

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