Sunday, October 05, 2008

History of laser technology

Stimulated Emission - 1917

The physicist Albert Einstein had described the theory of stimulated emission as early as 1917, but it would still take 30 years before engineers began to utilize this principle for practical purposes. Scientists were amazed by this technical breakthrough but laser technology itself had no real purpose. This is not exceptional, discoveries may need time before being put to use. Today laser is used in communication, industry, medicine, and environmental care and research. Laser has become one of the most powerful tools for scientists in physics, chemistry, biology and medicine throughout the world. One area that is considered to be very interesting is in the different methods to cool and capture atoms by using laser. We don't know yet what this knowledge and technology will be used for in the future, but we do know that future applications will be based on today's research.

Most of us are involved with lasers in one form or the other in our everyday activities. I guess my first involvement was in the 1970's, as a surveyor, when we started using electronic distance measure, a little box that set on top of the transit and sent a laser beam to a prism to measure the distance with accuracy that we couldn't achieve with survey tapes. Not even invar tapes using temperature correction and balance scales could come close. This was the second big technological change for the land surveying trade, the first being the advent of the Hewlet Packard hand held calculator,which made our books of trigonometric functions and logrythems obselete, as well as all of our mechanical number crunchers, including the Curta hand held calculator that gave answers to 8 places and was no larger than a can of soup. I still have mine, and it is now a collectors item, just like the slide rules that the nerds all carried. Even the first electronic calculators are collectable now, with the HP 35 being worth several hundered $, which makes calling me a relic from the past seem like an understatement...G:

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