Theodore Maiman

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Theodore Harold Maiman
Theodore Maiman 1964cr.jpg
Maiman in 1964
Theodore Harold Maiman

(1927-07-11)July 11, 1927
DiedMay 5, 2007(2007-05-05) (aged 79)
Citizenship United States
Alma mater University of Colorado Boulder
Stanford University
Known forInventing, Demonstrating, and Patenting the World's First LASER
Awards Stuart Ballantine Medal (1962)
Oliver E. Buckley Condensed Matter Prize (1966)
Wolf Prize in Physics (1983)
Japan Prize (1987)
Scientific career
Fields Physics, electrical engineering
Institutions Hughes Research Laboratories
Korad Corporation
Doctoral advisor Willis Lamb

Theodore Harold "Ted" Maiman (July 11, 1927 – May 5, 2007) was an American engineer and physicist who is widely credited with the invention of the laser. [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] Maiman's laser led to the subsequent development of many other types of lasers. [8] [9] The laser was successfully fired on May 16, 1960. In a July 7, 1960 press conference in Manhattan, [10] Maiman and his employer, Hughes Aircraft Company, announced the laser to the world. [11] Maiman was granted a patent for his invention, [12] and he received many awards and honors for his work. Maiman's experiences in developing the first laser and subsequent related events are described in his book, The Laser Odyssey. [13]

Engineer Professional practitioner of engineering and its sub classes

Engineers, as practitioners of engineering, are professionals who invent, design, analyze, build, and test machines, systems, structures and materials to fulfill objectives and requirements while considering the limitations imposed by practicality, regulation, safety, and cost. The word engineer is derived from the Latin words ingeniare and ingenium ("cleverness"). The foundational qualifications of an engineer typically include a four-year bachelor's degree in an engineering discipline, or in some jurisdictions, a master's degree in an engineering discipline plus four to six years of peer-reviewed professional practice and passage of engineering board examinations.

Physicist scientist who does research in physics

A physicist is a scientist who specializes in the field of physics, which encompasses the interactions of matter and energy at all length and time scales in the physical universe. Physicists generally are interested in the root or ultimate causes of phenomena, and usually frame their understanding in mathematical terms. Physicists work across a wide range of research fields, spanning all length scales: from sub-atomic and particle physics, through biological physics, to cosmological length scales encompassing the universe as a whole. The field generally includes two types of physicists: experimental physicists who specialize in the observation of physical phenomena and the analysis of experiments, and theoretical physicists who specialize in mathematical modeling of physical systems to rationalize, explain and predict natural phenomena. Physicists can apply their knowledge towards solving practical problems or to developing new technologies.

Laser Device which emits light via optical amplification

A laser is a device that emits light through a process of optical amplification based on the stimulated emission of electromagnetic radiation. The term "laser" originated as an acronym for "light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation". The first laser was built in 1960 by Theodore H. Maiman at Hughes Research Laboratories, based on theoretical work by Charles Hard Townes and Arthur Leonard Schawlow.


Life and career

Maiman with his laser in July 1960. Theodore Maiman 1960.jpg
Maiman with his laser in July 1960.

Maiman was born in Los Angeles, California to Abraham "Abe" Maiman, an electrical engineer [10] and inventor, and Rose Abramson. At a young age his family moved to Denver, Colorado, where he helped his father with experimentation in a home electronics laboratory. In his teens Maiman earned money by repairing electric appliances and radios, [14] and after leaving high school was employed as a junior engineer with the National Union Radio Company at age 17. [15]

Denver capital city of the state of Colorado, United States; consolidated city and county

Denver, officially the City and County of Denver, is the capital and most populous municipality of the U.S. state of Colorado. Denver is located in the South Platte River Valley on the western edge of the High Plains just east of the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. The Denver downtown district is immediately east of the confluence of Cherry Creek with the South Platte River, approximately 12 mi (19 km) east of the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Denver is named after James W. Denver, a governor of the Kansas Territory. It is nicknamed the Mile High City because its official elevation is exactly one mile above sea level. The 105th meridian west of Greenwich, the longitudinal reference for the Mountain Time Zone, passes directly through Denver Union Station.

Colorado U.S. state in the United States

Colorado is a state of the Western United States encompassing most of the southern Rocky Mountains as well as the northeastern portion of the Colorado Plateau and the western edge of the Great Plains. It is the 8th most extensive and 21st most populous U.S. state. The estimated population of Colorado was 5,695,564 on July 1, 2018, an increase of 13.25% since the 2010 United States Census.

Electronics physics, engineering, technology and applications that deal with the emission, flow and control of electrons in vacuum and matter

Electronics comprises the physics, engineering, technology and applications that deal with the emission, flow and control of electrons in vacuum and matter.

Following a year's service in the United States Navy at the end of World War II, [16] he earned a B.S. in Engineering Physics from the University of Colorado Boulder. Maiman then went on to graduate studies at Stanford University where he earned an M.S. in Electrical Engineering in 1951 and a Ph.D. in Physics in 1955.

United States Navy Naval warfare branch of US Armed Forces

The United States Navy (USN) is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. It is the largest and most capable navy in the world and it has been estimated that in terms of tonnage of its active battle fleet alone, it is larger than the next 13 navies combined, which includes 11 U.S. allies or partner nations. It has the highest combined battle fleet tonnage and the world's largest aircraft carrier fleet, with eleven in service, and two new carriers under construction. With 336,978 personnel on active duty and 101,583 in the Ready Reserve, the U.S. Navy is the third largest of the U.S. military service branches in terms of personnel. It has 290 deployable combat vessels and more than 3,700 operational aircraft as of June 2019, making it the third-largest air force in the world, after the United States Air Force and the United States Army.

World War II 1939–1945, between Axis and Allies

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from more than 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 70 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

Engineering physics or engineering science refers to the study of the combined disciplines of physics, mathematics and engineering, particularly computer, nuclear, electrical, electronic, materials or mechanical engineering. By focusing on the scientific method as a rigorous basis, it seeks ways to apply, design, and develop new solutions in engineering.

His doctoral thesis in experimental physics, under the direction of physicist Willis Lamb, [10] involved detailed microwave-optical measurements of fine structural splittings in excited helium atoms. He also devised laboratory instrumentation for Lamb's experiments. Maiman published two articles jointly with Lamb in Physical Review, the second of which was based on his own thesis research. [17] [18] His thesis experiment was instrumental in his development of the laser. [13] :34

Experimental physics is the category of disciplines and sub-disciplines in the field of physics that are concerned with the observation of physical phenomena and experiments. Methods vary from discipline to discipline, from simple experiments and observations, such as the Cavendish experiment, to more complicated ones, such as the Large Hadron Collider.

Willis Lamb American Physicist

Willis Eugene Lamb Jr. was an American physicist who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1955 "for his discoveries concerning the fine structure of the hydrogen spectrum." The Nobel Committee that year awarded half the prize to Lamb and the other half to Polykarp Kusch, who won "for his precision determination of the magnetic moment of the electron." Lamb was able to determine precisely a surprising shift in electron energies in a hydrogen atom. Lamb was a professor at the University of Arizona College of Optical Sciences.

Physical Review is an American peer-reviewed scientific journal established in 1893 by Edward Nichols. It publishes original research as well as scientific and literature reviews on all aspects of physics. It is published by the American Physical Society (APS). The journal is in its third series, and is split in several sub-journals each covering a particular field of physics. It has a sister journal, Physical Review Letters, which publishes shorter articles of broader interest.

In 1956 Maiman started work with the Atomic Physics Department of the Hughes Aircraft Company (later Hughes Research Laboratories or HRL Laboratories) in California where he led the ruby maser redesign project for the U.S. Army Signal Corps, reducing it from a 2.5-ton cryogenic device to 4 pounds (1.8 kg) while improving its performance. [5] :88 [19] As a result of this success Maiman persuaded Hughes management to use company funds to support his laser project beginning in mid-1959. On a total budget of $50,000, Maiman turned to the development of a laser based on his own design with a synthetic ruby crystal, which other scientists seeking to make a laser felt would not work. [20] [21] [22]

HRL Laboratories Research facility in California, USA

HRL Laboratories, was the research arm of Hughes Aircraft. It is a dedicated research center, established in 1960, in Malibu, California. Currently owned by General Motors Corporation and Boeing, the research facility is housed in two large, white multi-story buildings overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Maser Microwave Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation

A maser is a device that produces coherent electromagnetic waves through amplification by stimulated emission. The first maser was built by Charles H. Townes, James P. Gordon, and H. J. Zeiger at Columbia University in 1953. Townes, Nikolay Basov and Alexander Prokhorov were awarded the 1964 Nobel Prize in Physics for theoretical work leading to the maser. Masers are used as the timekeeping device in atomic clocks, and as extremely low-noise microwave amplifiers in radio telescopes and deep space spacecraft communication ground stations.

On May 16, 1960, at Hughes' Malibu, California, laboratories, Maiman's solid-state pink ruby laser emitted mankind's first coherent light, with rays all the same wavelength and fully in phase. [14] Maiman documented his invention in Nature [10] [15] [23] and published other scholarly articles describing the science and technology underlying his laser. [24] [23] [25] [26]

Malibu, California City in California, United States

Malibu is a beach city in western Los Angeles County, California, situated about 30 miles (48 km) west of Downtown Los Angeles. It is known for its Mediterranean climate and its 21-mile (34 km) strip of the Malibu coast, incorporated in 1991 into the City of Malibu. The area is known for being the home of Hollywood movie stars, people in the entertainment industry, and other affluent residents. Most Malibu residents live within a few hundred yards of Pacific Coast Highway, which traverses the city, with some residents living up to a mile away from the beach up narrow canyons. As of the 2010 census, the city population was 12,645.

In physics, two wave sources are perfectly coherent if they have a constant phase difference and the same frequency, and the same waveform. Coherence is an ideal property of waves that enables stationary interference. It contains several distinct concepts, which are limiting cases that never quite occur in reality but allow an understanding of the physics of waves, and has become a very important concept in quantum physics. More generally, coherence describes all properties of the correlation between physical quantities of a single wave, or between several waves or wave packets.

<i>Nature</i> (journal) British multidisciplinary scientific journal

Nature is a British multidisciplinary scientific journal, first published on 4 November 1869. It is one of the most recognizable scientific journals in the world, and was ranked the world's most cited scientific journal by the Science Edition of the 2010 Journal Citation Reports and is ascribed an impact factor of 43.070, making it one of the world's top academic journals. It is one of the few remaining academic journals that publishes original research across a wide range of scientific fields.

Maiman had begun conceptualizing a solid-state laser design even before he undertook the maser project at Hughes. [5] :45 [13] :45 Moving the microwave frequency of masers up the electromagnetic spectrum 50,000-fold to the frequency of light would require finding a feasible lasing medium and excitation source and designing the system. [5] :34–37 [27] Other major research groups at IBM, Bell Labs, MIT, Westinghouse, RCA and Columbia University, among others, were also pursuing projects to develop a laser. [5] :7 [13] :45

Their work was stimulated by a 1958 paper by Arthur L. Schawlow and Charles H. Townes offering theoretical analysis and a proposal for a gaseous system using potassium vapor excited by a potassium lamp. [3] :216 [5] :92 [28] However, Maiman identified multiple flaws in the Schawlow-Townes proposal and pursued his own solid-state design. [5] :111 [13] :151–156 [29] His successful design utilized synthetic pink ruby crystal as the active laser medium and a helical xenon flash lamp as the excitation source. [3] :226–234 [5] :170–182 [30] As Townes later wrote, "Maiman's laser had several aspects not considered in our theoretical paper, nor discussed by others before the ruby demonstration." [4] :108

Following his invention of the laser, in 1961 Maiman and seven colleagues departed Hughes to join the newly formed Quantatron company, which grew in-house ruby crystals for lasers. In 1962 Maiman founded and became the president of the Korad Corporation, which manufactured high-power ruby lasers. [10] [16] After Korad was fully acquired by Union Carbide in 1968, [14] Maiman left to found Maiman Associates, a venture capital firm. In 1971 Maiman founded the Laser Video Corporation, and from 1976 to 1983 he worked as vice president for advanced technology at TRW Electronics (now Northrop Grumman). [3] :232 He later served as consultant to Laser Centers of America, Inc. (now LCA-Vision Inc.) and director of Control Laser Corporation. Maiman continued his involvement in laser developments and applications. In addition to his patent for the first working laser, Maiman authored a number of patents on masers, lasers, laser displays, optical scanning, and modulation. [31]

Awards and recognition

Maiman with wife Kathleen and their 8-year-old stepdaughter, Cynthia Sanford in April 1966. Left to right- Shirley Rich Maiman, Theodore Harold Maiman (1927-2007), and Sheri Maiman (12483399095).jpg
Maiman with wife Kathleen and their 8-year-old stepdaughter, Cynthia Sanford in April 1966.

Maiman received numerous prizes, awards, and accolades over the years for his development of the first laser. He was given membership in both the National Academies of Sciences and Engineering. [19] He was made a Fellow of the American Physical Society, the Optical Society of America (OSA), and the Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers (SPIE). [15] In 1962 Maiman was awarded the Franklin Institute's Stuart Ballantine Medal for physics. [32]

In 1966 Maiman received the American Physical Society's Oliver E. Buckley Condensed Matter Prize and the Fannie and John Hertz Foundation Award for distinguished contribution in the field of science, [32] presented in a White House ceremony by President Lyndon B. Johnson. [33] In 1976 Maiman was awarded the Optical Society of America's R.W. Wood Prize for "Pioneer Development of the First Laser". He was the recipient of the 1983/84 Wolf Prize in Physics [14] and was also inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame that year. [10] [34] In 1987 Maiman was awarded the Japan Prize [14] in Electro-Optics for "realization of the world's first laser." [35] In 1994 he was inducted as an honorary fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, the only non-physician, non-royal member. Time magazine cited Maiman's invention of the laser as among the twenty most important technological developments of the 20th century. [36] Many universities granted Maiman honorary degrees, with the last from Simon Fraser University in 2002. [37]

Recognition for Maiman and his laser invention continued posthumously. In a 2007 obituary testimonial, maser co-inventor Charles H. Townes described Maiman's 1960 Nature article on his laser as "probably more important per word than any of the papers published by Nature over the past century." [38] The annual Theodore Maiman Student Paper Competition was established in 2008, endowed by major laser groups, and is administered by the OSA Foundation. [39] In 2010 numerous events were staged worldwide by major scientific and industry photonics organizations to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Maiman's first laser and subsequent lasers under the umbrella of LaserFest. [40] Related to these events, the U.S. Congress passed a resolution celebrating the invention of the laser and citing Maiman. [41] Also in 2010 Maiman's laser achievement was recognized as an IEEE Milestone, [37] and the American Physical Society presented Hughes Research Laboratories with a plaque to commemorate the historic site of the world's first laser. [42]

In 2011 Maiman was recognized by Stanford University as a "Stanford Engineering Hero", citing his "rare blend of advanced training in physics and engineering combined with significant laboratory experience". [43] In 2014 the National Academy of Sciences published a biographical memoir of Maiman including a tribute by Nick Holonyak, Jr. [44]


Maiman died from systemic mastocytosis on May 5, 2007 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, where he lived with his wife, Kathleen. [10] [45]

See also

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