On May 16, 1960, Theodore Harold Maiman operated the first laser, utilizing a synthetic ruby crystal grown by his colleague Dr. Ralph L. Hutcheson. A race had been underway in the scientific community for more than a decade to develop such a device, starting first with masers before moving on to lasers.
The word LASER is an acronym (the first acronym to appear on this blog) and stands for light amplification by stimulated emmission of radiation. When the laser (and maser-microwave amplification by stimulated emmission of radiation) was first developed it was know as a solution looking for a problem. Scientists and engineers saw incredible potential for such a device, and now lasers are ubiquitous and range in size from smaller than the head of a pin to the size of football fields. Lasers can be found in cd and dvd players, fingerprint readers, bar-code scanners, in medicine as a replacement for scalpels, in printers, dermatology, welding and cutting and even rock concerts and kids shows.
Image of an early ruby laser Courtesy Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.