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AFOSR celebrates 50 years of lasers

  • Published
  • By Bob White
  • Air Force Office of Scientific Research
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the first working laser, and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research is recognizing  five decades of successful research, development and application of numerous laser research programs during Laserfest.

Laserfest, a year-long celebration of the 50th anniversary of the laser, is a collaboration between the American Physical Society, the Optical Society, SPIE and  the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Photonics Society. To observe the effort, AFOSR, a Laserfest partner, sponsored a one-day conference on Aug. 6 highlighting the organization's efforts in laser research.

An integral part of the Air Force Research Laboratory, AFOSR is responsible for managing the basic research budget for the United States Air Force -- and lasers have been an important part of that effort.

The Laserfest conference featured six distinguished laser researchers, all funded by AFOSR. Dr. Howard "Howie" Schlossberg, is the program manager, who for more than thirty years, has guided the AFOSR laser research program for the betterment of the Air Force mission.

AFOSR was in on the ground floor in the support of laser development. It was in 1952 that physicists Nikolay Basov and Alexander Prokhorov, at the Lebedev Physical Institute in Moscow, described the principle of the maser -- or laser -- while concurrently, and working independently, Charles Townes, James Gordon and H. J. Zeiger demonstrated the first working maser in 1953 at Columbia University. Dr. Townes received funding from AFOSR among others beginning in 1951, which continued through the decade. In 1958,
Dr. Townes and Arthur Schawlow demonstrated the theoretical principle of the optical maser which Theodore Maiman demonstrated in 1960.

From then to the present, AFOSR-supported laser research branched out into the development of chemical, infrared, free-electron, ceramic, atomic, and femto-second lasers, with the stories of several being highlighted at the conference.

Stanford University Professor Emeritus Anthony E. Siegman, a world renowned pioneer in laser science, was featured speaker at the event. His many contributions include the invention of the unstable resonator and the introduction of "M2", the now-standard and rigorous way of describing laser beam quality. He also wrote the standard textbook and reference work titled, "Lasers". Throughout his career the bulk of Professor Siegman's funding came from AFOSR.

AFOSR LaserFest also featured five other distinguished speakers who are leaders in their respective fields, and share a common bond: their graduate student research was funded by AFOSR. The success of these individuals validates one of the core missions of AFOSR -- to contribute to the future scientific "braintrust" of the nation, especially as it applies to our national defense.

Professor Richard Miles of Princeton University discussed the application of lasers in aerospace.

Professor Margaret Murnane of the University of Colorado presented the developmental background concerning ultra-high peak power physics and its application to ultrafast coherent x-rays from tabletop femto-second lasers.

Professor Alan Willner from the University of Southern California detailed the history of optical communications and what the future holds in this important field. Part of Dr. Willner's presentation was the seven generation family tree of optical laser faculty-student mentored relationships through the years, beginning with Dr. Townes.

Dr. Ronald Jones from Northrop Grumman Corporation detailed the critical importance of AFOSR support in the development of infrared lasers used to counter man-portable anti-aircraft missiles.

Additionally, Dr. Gary Tearney of Massachusetts General Hospital explained the latest use of lasers in medicine, emphasizing the non-invasive diagnostic aspects of laser technology.