Celebrating the laser

March 1, 2010
I could foresee a lot of things," said Charles H. Townes, speaking on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the first working laser.

I could foresee a lot of things," said Charles H. Townes, speaking on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the first working laser. "On the other hand there are many things I didn't see, such as in medical use. It never occurred to me that [the laser] would be very useful medically, but it is."

Townes received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1964 for fundamental work in the field of quantum electronics, which led to the construction of oscillators and amplifiers based on the maser-laser principle. He is a University of California Berkeley professor emeritus of physics, and was honored there on January 25 when he spoke about the past, present and future of lasers. The speech was part of LaserFest, a year-long celebration of the laser, which emphasizes the laser's impact throughout history and highlights its potential for the future.

The organizers of LaserFest, together with the National Museum of American History (Washington, D.C) co-hosted another event on February 12 at the museum to honor those who have made significant contributions to the development and application of laser technology. The program included an address by U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu. The museum is featuring a new exhibit, titled "Fifty Years of Lasers," featuring several types of lasers.

Through a series of events and programs, LaserFest (www.laserfest.org) is showcasing the laser's contributions to the world and humankind.

Chance romance

Britton Chance, the 97-year-old National Medal of Science honoree famous for his study of the basic theory of photon migration through tissues, married his colleague Shoko Nioka on February 6 in Tainan, Taiwan. The couple celebrated in traditional Chinese style at National Cheng Kung University, where both are serving as visiting professors. They have known each other for nearly 30 years.

Tainan mayor Tain-Tsair Hsu praised the groom as a pioneer who "never talks about the past but only speaks of the future," and wished the couple "good luck on producing a newborn and making a fortune." The bride responded that she and Chance have already given birth to many discoveries, or "children of science."

Chance's work has focused on the use of picosecond pulsed and high frequency modulation of near infrared (NIR) light in human brain, breast, and muscle to characterize tissue optical properties; and the use of imaging systems to detect breast tumor; hemorrhage deep within tissues; and human brain function in cognitive activity. He won a gold medal for sailing in the 1952 summer Olympics.

Laser enables 90% blindness risk reduction

With timely laser surgery and proper follow-up care, people with diabetic retinopathy can reduce their risk of blindness by 90 percent, according to Thomas C. Lee of the Retina Institute at Children's Hospital Los Angeles; Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California; and Doheny Eye Institute. Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in American adults under 60. Treatment involves applying 1000–2000 tiny laser burns to specific areas of the retina in order to shrink the abnormal blood vessels and help secure the retina in its proper place.

About the Author

Barbara Gefvert | Editor-in-Chief, BioOptics World (2008-2020)

Barbara G. Gefvert has been a science and technology editor and writer since 1987, and served as editor in chief on multiple publications, including Sensors magazine for nearly a decade.

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