The Fundamentals of Laser Technology

History of Laser Technology

Laser technology started with Albert Einstein in the early 1900s. The technology further evolved in 1960 when the very first laser was built at Hughes Research Laboratories. Follow the timeline below to see the evolution of laser technology.


Albert Einstein lays the foundations for laser technology when he predicts the phenomenon of “Stimulated Emission,” which is fundamental to the operation of all lasers.
Valentin Fabrikant theorizes the use of stimulated emission to amplify radiation.
Charles Townes, Nikolay Basov, and Alexander Prokhorov develop the quantum theory of stimulated emission and demonstrate stimulated emission of microwaves. They later receive the Nobel Prize in Physics for this ground- breaking work.
Columbia University graduate student Gordon Gould proposes that stimulated emission can be used to amplify light. He describes an optical resonator that can create a narrow beam of coherent light, and calls it a LASER for “Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation”.
Theodore Maiman builds the first working prototype of a laser at Hughes Research Laboratories in Malibu, California. This laser uses synthetic ruby as the active medium and emits a deep red beam of light with a wavelength of 694.3 nm. The first application for the ruby laser was for military range finders and is still used commercially for drilling holes in diamond because of its high peak power.
The Carbon Dioxide (CO2) laser is developed by Kumar Patel at AT&T Bell Labs. The CO2 laser has much lower cost and higher efficiency than the ruby laser. These factors have made it the most popular industrial laser type for more than 50 years.

Growth of Laser Materials Processing


The first CO2 laser, developed in 1964, had a power output of only one milliwatt. By 1967, CO2 lasers with power exceeding 1,000 watts were possible. The first commercial application of Laser Materials Processing was in May of 1967 when Peter Houldcroft of TWI (The Welding Institute) in Cambridge, England used an oxygen-assisted CO2 laser beam to cut through a sheet of steel 1 mm thick.


Continued refinements of CO2 lasers along with developments of new types of lasers ushered in the first “Laser Machining” applications. The first 2-axis laser system was developed in 1975 by Laser-Work A.G. The earliest applications were driven by automobile and aircraft manufacturers who were discovering the value of lasers for metal cutting and welding.


The introduction of small, inexpensive lasers such as the Carbon Dioxide Slab Laser, ushered in a new era of “Laser Materials Processing”. Applications expanded from metal cutting and welding, to processing organic materials such as plastic, rubber and foam.