First laser fires up at SFU's 50th anniversary event

September 22, 2015

Bruno Jaggi demonstrates the world’s first working laser, invented in May 1960 by former SFU adjunct professor Theodore Maiman. Jaggi fired the laser at SFU’s 50th anniversary event held on Sept. 9. Jaggi is an adjunct professor in SFU’s School of Engineering Science and UBC’s Biomedical Engineering program.

Pioneer Theodore Maiman died in 2007, but before his death, he was active in the development of the optical engineering and biophotonics curriculum at SFU's School of Engineering Science. While working in California at Hughes Aircraft Company in the 50s and 60s, he refined the design of the laser and eventually entered the race to produce the world’s first working laser. Using a synthetic ruby and low-cost materials, Maiman fired the laser in May 1960, emitting mankind’s first coherent light—with rays all the same wavelength and fully in phase. 

In 1999 Maiman moved to Vancouver with his wife Kathleen, and three years later he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Simon Fraser University. In 2000, Maiman completed a memoir entitled The Laser Odyssey, outlining the events leading up to completing the first laser, and his later achievements. 

Today, the laser is ubiquitous, used in everyday items such as printers, barcode scanners, and pointers, and in numerous medical and industrial devices.