Celebrating the laser: OSA, APS and you

WASHINGTON, DC--Quick: In what year was the first laser successfully operated? You’re right if you said 1960--which means next year is a milestone for the laser.

WASHINGTON, DC--Quick: In what year was the first laser successfully operated? You’re right if you said 1960--which means next year is a milestone for the laser. Already, though, the Optical Society (OSA) and the American Physical Society (APS) have begun planning for the laser’s 50th anniversary. In fact, the partners have launched a multi-year celebration, LaserFest (www.laserfest.org), that aims to highlight the importance of the technology through a series of events and programs.

LaserFest will recognize and honor the individuals who laid the foundation for the laser’s discovery, as well as those who worked to develop and apply the technology. The partners are emphasizing the impact of the laser and the importance of scientific and technological innovation. “Today’s laser and all of its applications are the result of not one individual’s efforts, but the work of a number of prestigious scientists and engineers who were leaders in optics and photonics over the course of history,” say the OSA and APS.

Although the LaserFest website provides quite a bit of information already, OSA’s PR director Colleen Morrison told Optoelectronics Report, “we are in the very early stages.” With major areas of responsibility established (APS is administering the website and OSA is taking charge of PR) and ongoing communication happening within and among teams at the OSA and APS, Morrison said that a next priority is hiring a program manager to oversee and propel the project forward. “We’re reviewing resume’s now,” she noted.

Meanwhile, though, the organizers are planning a broad range of activities at both the local and national level. Anticipated happenings include public outreach events, traveling lectures, symposia, educational demonstrations, student chapter events and more. Through a wide range of events and activities, LaserFest aims to tell the story of the pioneering development of the laser and explore how scientific research leads to technological innovation that can impact and transform all segments of society. “National LaserFest,” planned for 2010 in the nation’s capitol (nearby headquarters for both the OSA and APS), will include:

–A Kick-off dinner in Washington, February 2010: APS, OSA, and its sister society AAPT (American Association of Physics Teachers) will host a reception and dinner to formally inaugurate the LaserFest year.

–Washington Reception/Gala, June 2010: A high-profile LaserFest reception/gala for APS, OSA, and other participating society members; as well as legislators and key legislative staff; representatives of science and technology funding agencies, leaders in the corporate world, and members of the science policy establishment.

–Debates, symposia, and demonstrations, 2009–2010:

  • Discussion of the colorful story of the laser; from its history to multiple roles in basic science, medicine, commerce, and industry.
  • Symposium on the cutting edge science that is currently being done with the laser (Bose-Einstein condensates, slow light, the search for gravitational waves, and many more).
  • Exhibition of commercial products that use the laser in essential ways.
  • Series of mock debates on “controversial” aspects of the laser, such as: red vs. green, laser cooling (1997 Nobel Prize) vs. laser heating (the National Ignition Facility), and lasers for combat (gun sights, smart bombs) vs. lasers for healing (laser surgery).
  • A laser demonstration show using the best talent from “LaserFest on the Road.”
  • Laser Show on Capitol Hill, 2010: A dazzling laser show on Capitol Hill featuring the many scientific and technological achievements that it has made possible.

    Ideas currently being explored for “Local LaserFest,” events celebrating the laser throughout the U.S., are:

      –Worldwide Calendar of LaserFest Events
      –Laser Traveling Lecture Series
      –LaserFest on the Road
      –Public lectures at Society Meetings
      –Laser Days
      –Laser Traveling Lecture Series: Hear traveling public lectures and colloquia on laser-related themes by practicing scientists. Sponsored by the APS Division of Laser Science.
      –LaserFest on the Road: Watch a set of traveling laser demonstration shows at local universities across the country.
      –Public lectures at Society meetings 2009–2010: View public lectures and demonstration shows on the laser at APS March and April meetings. In addition OSA society meetings will host symposia, video showings, and other events.
      –Laser Days: Participate in a series of local events around the country hosted by local OSA sections and student chapters. Activities include scientific demonstrations illustrating the science behind the laser and how lasers are used in everyday life.

    Actually, though, the first event fulfilling LaserFest objectives has already happened: It was a symposium and reception honoring Theodore Maiman (who developed, demonstrated and patented that first laser in 1960) at the OSA co-sponsored CLEO/QELS conference in May 2008. Another event, in honor of Charles Townes (who developed the maser, precursor to the laser), was held at Frontiers in Optics, OSA’s Annual Meeting in Rochester, N.Y. in October 2008.

    Morrison says they are planning outreach to other scientific professional societies, and work with both local and student sections of the OSA to participate in and plan events as part of LaserFest. “We encourage you to get your local schools, universities, and communities involved,” they say. The intended audience reaches far beyond the many industries that have come to rely on lasers; it includes students, educators, legislators, funding agencies and the general public. The website states that, “In order for the story of the laser to be brought to as broad an audience as possible, LaserFest relies on support from local communities all over the United States.”

    Morrison wants Optoelectronics Report readers to know that the OSA and APS need interested parties--both organizations and individuals--to get involved. There’s a form on the website whereby anyone planning a laser celebration event can submit details. And the organizers are seeking ideas. But, Morrison said, “If you don’t have an idea, and just want to get involved, we welcome you.” Just drop a note to Beth Hampton, OSA’s chief marketing officer, bhampt@osa.org.

    The organizers are also seeking sponsors who will be offered recognition on the LaserFest website and in other promotion materials. Donations to LaserFest are tax deductible, and are administered through APS, which is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. For information on sponsoring an event, corporate giving, or anything else related to donations, please contact Darlene Logan, logan@aps.org.

    --Barbara Goode

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