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A look at 50 years of lasers

Rich Engelbrecht
via Flickr
Laser light shows - like this one in Rochester - wouldn't be possible without lasers. Thankfully, lasers also do useful stuff.

For those of you who haven’t been following LaserFest, 2010 is the 50th anniversary of the laser.

Lasers are pretty ubiquitous these days. But back in 1960 when LASER (Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation) was rocking all caps, no one was sure what to do with the invention. The oft-quoted line from one of the Nobel-winning pioneers of the technology is that the laser was a “solution looking for a problem.”

Now they’re everywhere.

Does that make lasers an instructive lesson for today’s innovation economy?

This year is also the 40th anniversary of the University of Rochester’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics. And Rochester more broadly has long been a leader in optics and photonics, which is basically the study of all things light.

So it makes sense that Rochester will host this year’s Frontiers in Optics conference later this month. The annual gathering brings in people from academia and industry to discuss - you guessed it - the latest advances in optics and laser science.

No word on whether shark/laser synergies will be discussed; whether this invention is getting its own panel; or if the public relations wing is considering tackling this unofficial slogan.

But for us it may offer an opportunity to ponder how 1960’s seemingly useless innovation ascended so high, and if one of today’s orphaned solutions might one day meet the same success.