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Where, How, and Why was the Laser Pointer Invented?

A laser pointer is a small, handheld device that uses batteries and a diode laser to produce monochromatic, coherent light.

It can be used to highlight points when giving a presentation, calling attention to a specific portion of a slide. It’s also used to point out stars, signal for help, or even to disperse birds when they’ve gathered in one place.

While a red laser pointer is the most common, laser pointers are available in various colors, with green lasers usually being used by astronomers to point out stars because of their long-distance range. They can also be found in different sizes and in a range of prices.

This small device can be extremely handy, but its origin is often a mystery to those who use it.

What exactly is a laser?

When was the laser pointer invented, and by whom?

This article will aim to answer these questions and more.

While the concept of lasers can be traced back to scientists like Max Planck and Albert Einstein, the first working laser was actually created by Theodore Maiman at Hughes Research Laboratory in 1960.

The history of this simple device is a complex one, so let’s get started.

What Is a Laser?

laser light

The word “laser” is an acronym that stands for “light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation” but it’s so commonly used today that we just refer to it as “laser.”

Although very few lasers today use light amplification, we still use the term laser for other devices producing coherent, monochromatic radiation. Laser pointers usually consist of diode-pumped solid-state lasers that can produce beams of light up to 300mW, and are available in colors like red, green, violet, and blue.

Where Was the Laser Pointer Invented?

The first working laser was invented at Hughes Research Laboratory on May 16, 1960 by a physicist named Dr. Theodore Maiman. Today, this historic place is known as HRL Laboratories and is located in Malibu, California.

How Was the Laser Pointer Invented?

energy was made up of individual units called quanta

For a seemingly simple device, laser points have a very long history. In fact, the idea of lasers can be traced back to the 1900s.

In 1900, a German physicist named Max Planck wrote and published a research paper in which he claimed that energy was made up of individual units called quanta.

His theory served as an inspiration to Albert Einstein, who realized in 1905 that light was made up of photons. Einstein used this to put forth his theory of stimulated emission, which claimed that electrons could be stimulated to emit light of a specific wavelength.

Progress was made another 40 years later when Professor Charles Townes from Columbia University came up with the concept of a maser, i.e., microwave amplification by stimulated emission of radiation.

Using Einstein’s theory of stimulated emission, Townes claimed that the device would amplify and generate electromagnetic waves.

In 1957, a graduate student from Columbia University called Gordon Gould wrote LASER (light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation) in a notebook and listed what he would need to make one.

In 1958, Townes and his brother-in-law, A. L. Schawlow, published a paper titled, “Infrared and Optical Masers” that detailed how masers could work in optical realms. The optical maser, called a laser, was granted a U.S. patent number 2,929,922.

Gould also applied for a patent along with his private research company called Technical Research Group, but his application was rejected.

In 1960, Theodore Maiman built a working laser at Hughes Research Laboratory. This used light as an energy source, a ruby as a medium, and mirrors as a resonator. Together, they created a laser beam.

If you want to learn more about how a laser works, watch this informative YouTube video:

For a more in-depth look at lasers and their functioning, we suggest the following:

How lasers work - a thorough explanation

How Lasers Work - A Complete Guide

Why Was the Laser Pointer Invented?

Original laser pointers could be dangerous if the laser came into contact with the skin or eyes. Researchers wanted to introduce laser pointers that could be used for daily tasks but without the ability to cause harm. This is how current laser pointers came into existence.

The laser points commonly used for presentations in business or education aren’t high power laser pointers. The latter are reserved for use in other fields like astronomy.

When Was the Laser Pointer Invented?

a scientist in a research Laboratory

The world’s first working laser was built in 1960 at Hughes Research Laboratory, but this isn’t always considered the invention of the modern laser pointer.

In fact, it wasn’t until the 1980s that lasers were used in consumer electronics. Until then, they weren’t small enough and required large amounts of energy.

In 1980, lasers became small, required little energy, and most importantly, became cheap enough to sell to regular customers. However, despite this smaller size, they were still thick and bulky.

In the 1990s, we began seeing slimmer laser pointers shaped like pens, i.e., the laser pointer we know and use today. Therefore, while the laser itself was invented in 1960, we would consider the inception of the modern laser pointer to be during the 1990s.


colorful laser light

For such a small device that we take for granted, laser pointers have an extensive history consisting of the inception of the idea, fighting for patent rights, and the slow progression to modern-day laser pointers.

The first working laser was developed in 1960, but there have been more than 55,000 U.S. patents for the laser since then and the modern laser pointer we use has been the collective work of multiple scientists.

The next time you use your handy laser pointer during a presentation or just to play with your pets, remember how much effort went into it and how much history there is behind it. We certainly will.

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