Laser Focus takes on the world

he first issue of Laser Focus, which would eventually become Laser Focus World, was published in January of 1965.

Jan 1st, 2005
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The first issue of Laser Focus, which would eventually become Laser Focus World, was published in January of 1965. It was the first magazine devoted to the fledgling laser industry.

A year later, as recalled by Joan Lisa Bromberg, director of the Laser History Project from 1982 to 1989, the magazine reported that the industry had virtually exploded. “The inaugural market report of Laser Focus-the first American trade magazine devoted exclusively to the laser industry, and itself both a symbol and promoter of the industry’s expansion-reported in January 1966 that the number of firms manufacturing lasers had gone from less than 20 at the beginning of 1963 to about 115 at the end of 1965,” Bromberg wrote.1

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The semimonthly publication appearing on the first and 15th of every month and staffed by editor Bill Bushor and four associate editors was available for an annual subscription price of $36. Volume one, number one, dated Jan. 1, 1965, contained 20 pages, all staff-written. It included a subscription order card, but no advertising. In terms of editorial content, roughly the first third of that first magazine covered Applications and Types. The middle third focused on Techniques and Systems. The remaining third included Comments and Conclusions, New Products, and New Literature.

Five categories and topics were covered in Applications. They included Beaconing: “NASA contracts for first airborne laser beacon,” Biomedical: “Laser hazards” and “What are biomedicine’s laser needs?” Computers and EDP: “Lasers aid in oil and gas exploration,” Machining: “Laser beam’s interaction with metal explored,” and Measuring: “Cloud height measured by a laser.”

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The Type category included two articles on injection lasers: “Miniature laser projects music via light beam” and “Heat-sink-mounted GaAs laser achieves 1-W CW operation.” Two articles on Techniques: “Reverse-biased p-n junction used as light modulator” and “Microwave frequencies stepped up to optical range of lasers.”

One of two articles in the Systems section enthused about “3-D Lasography” based on a paper by University of Michigan physicists describing “a laser-source system that provides true black-and-white, three-dimensional views of an object from a two-dimensional photographic transparency-but in a manner that startlingly departs from any previous stereo-optical system designed!”2 A second article in Systems described the introduction by Honey­well scientists of “what they claim is the smallest laser integrating gyro ever announced (see figure).” The gyro was said to occupy only two-tenths of a square foot and to weigh only eight pounds.

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Among the various ideas expressed in Comments and Conclusions, a scientist from Phillips Research in Holland speculated about the eventual use of lasers in commercial refrigeration systems. Charles Townes gave public support to a Tyco Laboratories claim of having achieved lasing action in silicon carbide at room temperature (the original Tyco report in 1963 led to a nationwide controversy). And Arthur Schawlow inadvertently exposed a sheet of paper with information typed on it to a millisecond pulse laser, which erased the typing . . . leading to speculation that typewriters might eventually be equipped with a “laser eraser” key.

Items in the New Products section included a 3- to 5-mW continuous-wave gas laser, priced at $1100; it was “designed with laboratory and educational requirements in mind.” The first item in the New Literature section referred to “The Astounding Laser-a four-page picture story of the making of the first laser by Dr. T.H. Maiman in 1960 and the state of development of the laser field today-appearing in the Oct. 24, 1964, issue of the Saturday Evening Post.”

Forty years later

In January 2005, the size of the editorial staff at Laser Focus World seems to be just about the only “opto-quantity” in the entire world (of things that either make lasers work or need lasers to make them work) that hasn’t either grown or shrunk by an order of magnitude. Industry revenue has grown in size from about $100 million in 1969 to more than $5 billion now, typical Laser Focus World page counts approach 200 per issue, and an annual subscription costs $150.

Qualitative growth, in terms of how the discipline perceives itself has been just as robust, also reflected in the descriptive tagline of the magazine- then: “A semimonthly report covering laser research, development, manufacture and application,” and now: “The magazine for the photonics and optoelectronics industry.” Linguistically, the advent of the photonics and optoelectronics industry had to wait for the conceptual emergence of “photonics” and “optoelectronics,” which didn’t exist 40 years ago, but came into being subsequently with the development of fiberoptics in the former case and with the integration of optics and electronics in the latter.

The topic that received the most coverage in the first ­issue of Laser Focus (five of the 20 pages, or 25% of the magazine) was 3-D lasography, along with the holograms it produced. Four decades later, recent coverage of holography included a contributed cover story on the integrated holographics that can be produced using deep-ultraviolet (DUV) photolithography (see Laser Focus World, October 2004, p. 73) and a biographical staff-written news story a year ago to commemorate the passing of Stephen Benton, inventor of the rainbow hologram, which played a fundamental role in the commercial success of image-based ­holography (see Laser Focus World, January 2004, p. 24).

“Although DUV photolithography was not developed with photonics in mind, the implications in this area are profound-especially in relation to holography and its applicability to planar waveguides,” according to Thomas Mossberg, Christoph Greiner, and Dmitri Iazikov (LightSmyth Technologies; Eugene, OR), who authored the October cover story. “Numerous devices and photonic-circuit approaches are now made possible by application of computer-designed volume holograms produced in planar waveguides.”

Potential photonic-circuit applications include spatial routing, focusing, wavefront matching, flexible spectral filtering, optical-pulse shaping, and temporal correlation-based signal processing, according to the authors. “Emerging fabrication technology also provides for cost-effective scribing of planar holograms onto highly stable and robust planar-wave-guide materials such as silica and various semiconductors,” added the authors.

Deep-UV photolithography is likely to make holograms much more accessible for industrial use. Benton, however, exhibited a genius for making holography practical and accessible for consumer-oriented applications. For instance, by retaining 3-D holographic characteristics while reducing the information content, he extended holographic technology into applications such as interactive holographic video and the white-light-viewable rainbow holograms that have become ubiquitous security devices on credit cards, software, and even driver’s licenses.

“Benton was known for his love of sushi, his pride in being a nerd, and the challenging twinkle in his eye,” wrote contributing editor Sunny Bains, in Benton’s obituary last January. And I’m sure that both Sunny Bains in 2005 and Bill Bushor in 1965 would agree that the best part of covering the field of optoelectronics is working in a community full of people like Stephen Benton.


1. J. L. Bromberg, The Laser in America, 1950-1970, p. 162, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1991).
2. E. N. Leigh, J. Upatnieks, J. Opt. Soc. of America 54(11) 1295 (November 1964).

Celebrating 40 years

Invented in the early 1960s, the laser was a pivotal scientific breakthrough and has since proliferated into countless industries. The fact that even nonscientists can appreciate a laser pointer or a laser light show, and marvel at the potential of laser weaponry, attests to the laser’s entrenchment in our society.

Laser Focus magazine, a “publication unlike any now in existence” according to Bill Bushor, its founding editor, was launched in 1965 with the goal of centralizing the available information on lasers. The magazine was originally published by International Data Publishing Company and was acquired by PennWell in 1982. Its name was changed to Laser Focus World in 1989.

As Laser Focus World turns 40 this year, the editorial approach has changed little since its premier as Laser Focus-even while chronicling the birth of an entirely new field of technology that encompasses far more than just lasers. In his first editorial column, “Laserscope . . . editorial observation by the staff of Laser Focus,” Bill Bushor outlined the magazine’s intention to provide as much information as possible on current developments in the field. “Laser Focus is designed to reduce the time a reader must spend to discover what is new in the field of lasers,” wrote Bushor. However, he added that the magazine should not “degenerate into an unfocused polyglot of information found in many trade magazines.”

We hope that Laser Focus World readers will find today’s magazine true to its original intentions, and will benefit from our coverage of optoelectronics and photonics, and new technologies such as nanophotonics as they emerge and mature. We also hope that you will enjoy our 40th Anniversary “Then and Now” musings as we look back each month on what was happening in the field of lasers and optoelectronics in 1965, and how it has changed (or stayed the same) in 2005.

Gail Overton

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