Laser pioneer Ted Maiman dies at 79

VANCOUVER, BC, CANADA-May 16 marks the 47th anniversary of the invention of the first working laser.

VANCOUVER, BC, CANADA-May 16 marks the 47th anniversary of the invention of the first working laser. This year, good friends of that laser’s inventor, Ted Maiman, plan to gather at Simon Fraser University (SFU; Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada) to celebrate his life and accomplishments. He died on May 5, two months shy of his 80th birthday, of a rare genetic blood disorder after a lengthy stay in a Vancouver hospital.

Andrew Rawicz, a professor in the School of Engineering Science at SFU, emphasized that the May 16 gathering will not be a memorial service but a celebration. “People like that never really die,” he said. The tribute will also mark a first step in establishing a commemorative archive and scholarship funds for Maiman at SFU, where Maiman received one of his many honorary degrees and served as an adjunct professor in the school of engineering, playing a key role in establishing a program in biomedical engineering and biophotonics. Plans are to establish a Maiman Foundation for the archive at SFU, as well as two scholarship funds: an Abe & Ted Maiman Scholarship related to the application of lasers in medicine, and a Sherri Maiman Scholarship in psychology, named for Maiman’s daughter who died prior to completing a PhD in psychology.

Maiman was born in 1927 and raised in Denver, CO. He earned a B.S. degree in engineering physics in 1949 at the University of Colorado. Two years later he attended Stanford University and obtained a master’s degree in electrical engineering followed by a doctorate in physics in 1955. At Stanford, Maiman studied under the theoretician Willis Lamb, who received the Nobel Prize in physics in 1955, months after Maiman received his doctorate.

In 1960 Maiman invented the first functioning laser while working at Hughes Aircraft Company. Hughes’s managers had previously assigned Maiman to build a more practical version of the maser using microwave emission from chromium atoms in synthetic ruby crystals. In 1962 Maiman established his own enterprise, Korad Corporation, which undertook the development and manufacture of lasers. In 1968, after selling the company to Union Carbide Corporation, Maiman founded Maiman Associates. In addition to his academic positions, he was most recently a director of Control Laser Corporation and a member of the advisory board of Industrial Research Magazine.

Maiman is the author of the basic patent on the ruby laser and a number of patents on masers, lasers, laser displays, optical scanning, and modulation. He was twice nominated for the Nobel Prize and was given membership in both National Academies of Science and Engineers. He was also a recipient of 1983/1984 Physics Prize, the same year he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Three years later he became laureate of the prestigious Japan Prize, the Asian equivalent of the Nobel Prize. He was a member of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineers, and was a Fellow of the American Physical Society, the Optical Society of America, and the Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers.

Maiman is survived by his wife, Kathleen, as well as other relatives and nephews in Denver, CO, and Los Angeles, CA. Cards and condolences, which will be included in the Maiman Archive, should be sent to the School of Engineering Science, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, V5A1S6, Canada, Attention: Andrew Rawicz. For more information on evolving plans for the Maiman Foundation and scholarship funds, contact Andrew Rawicz at [email protected]
-Hassaun Jones-Bey

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