Moving forward as we look back
The concept of directed energy weapons has been around much longer than the laser's 50 years—H.G. Wells described a heat ray in 1898, for example.
The concept of directed energy weapons has been around much longer than the laser's 50 years—H.G. Wells described a heat ray in 1898, for example. But the laser's invention made real the possibility of light-based directed energy weapons. Related research started almost immediately after Maiman's first laser demonstration and continues today. One of the more prominent projects—launched in 1993—has been the Airborne Laser (ABL), which is now over budget and behind schedule. Despite some success last year, though, the ABL has been grounded. Meanwhile, notes contributing editor Jeff Hecht, recent successes with diode-pumped solid-state lasers at 100 kW have opened up the possibility of a new generation of laser weapons (see cover and page 36).
In the commercial arena, fiber laser technology has advanced quickly in a relatively short time. We noted in February that these lasers have made ultrafast pulses much more accessible to "non-laser" researchers. Another advance was reported at Photonics West (San Francisco, CA)—pulse and spectral shaping techniques now enable a fiber laser to produce pulses shorter than 100 fs for the first time, thereby opening up more ultrafast pulse applications to these lasers (see page 48).
Advances across the entire spectrum of photonics will be reported at CLEO/QELS 2010 in San Jose, CA next month (www.cleoconference.org; see page 13). And at Monday's plenary sessions (covering new physics at extreme intensities of light and laser adaptive optics) we'll be presenting this year's CLEO/Laser Focus World Innovation Award (see http://bit.ly/cbUCEH). Of special note at CLEO this year is the LaserFest celebration (www.laserfest.org). Laser pioneers, historians, and others will talk about their experiences and contributions to one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century at a session entitled "Retrospectives on the Invention of the Laser" on Sunday, May 16—exactly 50 years after the firing of the first laser.
Stephen G. Anderson
Editor in Chief