50 years ago, the laser beam was born...

... and we mark this scientific achievement with 50 reasons to celebrate


1. The first working laser was built by Theodore Maiman and "fired" at Hughes Research Laboratories, Malibu, California on 16 May 1960.

2. Einstein set the theoretical foundations for the laser more then 30 years earlier in his 1917 paper, The Quantum Theory of Radiation.

3. Putting it very, very simply, you bounce light energy between mirrors at both ends of a tube. One of them is translucent, allowing a beam to pass through.

4. They have featured in hundreds of films, the most famous being the cutting beam heading for James Bond's crotch in Goldfinger; it has spawned imitations from Austin Powers to The Simpsons' Itchy and Scratchy.

5. No need to fear the dentist; beams can remove rot painlessly. Or you could just floss more.

6. The laser printer familiar to anyone who works in an office was invented in 1969 by Xerox, but wasn't commercially available until 1979. Oh, and it took up a whole room.

7. Four years later, LaserDisc – a sort of oversized DVD – marked the first time lasers were used for recording films or music. It never really caught on.

8. The name stands for: Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.

9. One in five British people who get tattoos later regret them. Many turn to laser surgery.

10. They gave us "bloodless" surgery: heat from the beam cuts and cauterises at the same time.

11. The first everyday commercial use of lasers was in supermarket barcode scanners in 1974.

12. But they aren't just for boring stuff. Pink Floyd and The Who pioneered laser light shows. Now no self-respecting band goes on tour without them.

13. On the downside, when you get zapped by a speed cameras, it is a laser that clocks you by bouncing off your car.

14. Laser pointers – loved by lecturers the world over – cost hundreds when they first appeared in shops in the 1980s; now you can pick one up for 50p.

15. Unfortunately, that means hooligans can afford them: in 2008, South Korean goalkeeper Lee Woon-Jae was hit in the eye while playing Saudi Arabia in a World Cup qualifier.

16. Who first invented the term "laser" was the subject of a 28-year patent lawsuit between physicist Gordon Gould and Bell Laboratories.

17. The glowing light sabres used in Star Wars were inspired by laser technology. They are "the most popular film weapon of all time", according to a survey by Twentieth Century Fox.

18. Lidar – using lasers to measure far-off objects – is more accurate than radar. Lucky really, because the ash cloud is back again.

19. Powerful as they were, lasers were dismissed by scientists at first as a "solution looking for a problem".

20. Nevertheless, Apollo 11 astronauts used one to measure the distance from the Earth to the Moon, give or take a finger's width.

21. Using lasers you can get sequencing information about DNA from a single molecule.

22. The first laser eye treatment on a human was done in 1987 by American physician Dr Marguerite McDonald, who described it as being "like a Buck Rogers ray gun".

23. The world's first laser-guided bomb, in 1967, went by the catchy name Bolt-117.

24. Laser measuring is accurate to more than a nanometre (that's a billionth of a metre).

25. In 2004, about 733 million diode lasers, used in DVD and CD players were sold, estimated to be worth about $3.2bn.

26. Lasers now feature on just about every DIY tool.

27. They are used to milk cows. No, really. They can scan the underside of a cow to locate the udders for robot milking machines.

28. Alexei Tolstoy's 1926 sci- fi novel The Hyperboloid of Engineer Garin features the first literary use of a "laser-like" device.

29. Fashion has been revolutionised by programmed lasers to cut thousands of garments.

30. They take seconds to scan fingerprints so a computer can check against a huge database.

31. The Q-switch Laser hair remover was first put on the market in 1968. It was withdrawn three years amid concern about safety checks.

32. In 1982, the compact disc player came into people's homes and revolutionised music.

33. The strength of early lasers was measured in Gillettes: as in how many safety razor blades a beam could punch through.

34. Fibre optics for phones, cable TV and internet work via laser-generated pulses of light.

35. The mystery of how sharks swim so fast was solved using curtains of lasers which they swam through.

36. Laser tag – people shooting each with ray guns for fun – was developed as a non-lethal training tool for the US army in the 1970s.

37. A laser beam can be hotter than the surface of the sun.

38. Yet they can be used to cool atoms when combined with a magnetic field.

39. The first toy to use a weak laser beam was marketed in 1979 as the Star Trek "phaser" gun.

40. Lasers are categorised from 1 – 4: level 4 can result in permanent blindness and burning.

41. Scientists are testing the use of beams to draw lightning strikes away from airports and power plants.

42. Jean-Michel Jarre's laser harp was the ONLY cool thing about his massive concert in London's Royal Docks in 1988.

43. Tests on what could be the first fusion power source – using 192 laser beams – will be concluded in California this summer.

44. Laser thermometers can measure the temperature of a surface without touching it.

45. A laser ray gun powerful and light enough for use on a battlefield is being tested by the US army and navy.

46. They can reduce acne scars and subcutaneous fat.

47. They will even keep a cat amused, with flickering beams housed in pet toys.

48. We can manipulate objects as small as atoms using focused laser beams.

49. Early studies suggest that broken bones heal faster with laser therapy.

50. A tiny beam can be powerful enough to etch a serial number on a diamond, the hardest natural substance known to man.

Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
art
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
PROMOTED VIDEO
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
News
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Sport
sportVan Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Life and Style
Martha Stewart wrote an opinion column for Time magazine this week titled “Why I Love My Drone”
lifeLifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot... to take photos of her farm
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
filmReview: Sometimes the immersive experience was so good it blurred the line between fiction and reality
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
i100
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Environment
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
News
people
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices