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The laser at 50: just getting started

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By Margaret Harris

Who uses lasers? What can we do with them? How have they changed physics? And what’s in store for their future?

Here at Physics World, we have been thinking about these questions for months now, as we prepared to celebrate an important milestone in the history of science and technology: the 50th anniversary of the invention of the laser.

In our search for answers, we spoke to more than 20 experts in a wide variety of disciplines, including astronomy, biophysics, communications, defence, manufacturing, medicine, optics and space science (to name just a few).

You’ll find some of their responses in our May special issue – which you can download for free here – but for a more personal look at how lasers are shaping different areas of science and technology, check out our series of five exclusive video interviews:

Tom Baer of the Stanford Photonics Research Center reviews 50 years of laser physics, and makes some predictions about the next 50
Tom Hausken of the market-research firm Strategies Unlimited discusses how lasers are used in optical communications
• Medical physicist Brian Pogue of Dartmouth College describes laser-based cancer treatments and the rewards of working with lasers in an interdisciplinary field
Andreas Tünnermann explains how researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Optics and Precision Engineering are developing fibre lasers for use in manufacturing
Narasimha Prasad of NASA’s Langley Research Center talks about using space-based lasers to gather data about the climate on Earth – and perhaps beyond

All of the interviews were filmed during the 2010 Photonics West conference, which saw more than 20,000 photonics scientists and engineers from all over the world gather in San Francisco to share their latest results.

Stay tuned for more laser coverage over the next few weeks as we continue to celebrate 50 years of an amazing technology and its contributions to the world of physics…

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