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Kathleen Maiman, widow of Ted Maiman, and engineering science professor Andrew Rawicz hold the first operational laser created 50 years ago by Ted Maiman. Photo by Steve Ray.

Still beaming at 50

April 8, 2010

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SFU is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first working laser next month with a two-day symposium featuring a rare demonstration of the original device in action on May 16—exactly 50 years to the day it was first fired.

Leading experts will gather at the Wosk Centre for Dialogue in Vancouver May 15–16 to compare notes on how the laser has affected the world since its inception.

Theodore (Ted) Maiman, who demonstrated and patented the device in California in 1960, moved to Vancouver with his wife Kathleen in 1999 and became an adjunct professor at SFU.

Lasers are now found in everything from DVD players and supermarket scanners to dental drills and surgical equipment.

"It was a remarkable invention, one of the most important of the 20th century, and it changed our approach to everything from medicine to technology," says SFU engineering professor Andrew Rawicz, a friend of the Maimans and the symposium organizer.

Maiman was a three-time Nobel nominee and recipient of many international awards, including an honorary SFU degree in 2002. He died in 2007.

"He changed my whole philosophy with his approach," adds Rawicz. He and Maiman designed courses in bioptics and optical engineering and established a curriculum in biophotonics engineering, now part of SFU’s biomedical engineering program.

Maiman’s laser weighs less than 300 grams and is less than 12 centimeters long. It uses a synthetic ruby to turn non-coherent light into a concentrated laser beam.

Maiman’s laser remains in a bank vault in Vancouver. It will be put on display during the symposium and then hooked up to a power source on May 16 for the demonstration at the end of the symposium.

The symposium, Laser Celebration—Tribute to Theodore Maiman, will focus on the impact of the laser as well as Maiman’s contribution. One of many being held globally to celebrate the landmark, it’s expected to draw key researchers from Canada, the U.S. and Europe.

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