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The leading light for lasers

Fifty years ago this weekend, the Laser Age began - an era that has been as revolutionary as the Space Age. It's thought that half of America's gross domestic product is somehow connected with laser technology.

When Theodore Maiman turned on the first pulsed laser at the Hughes Research Laboratory in California on May 16, 1960, few could have imagined how much of an impact the devices would have on communications, manufacturing, medicine (and concert light shows). But Charles Townes had a pretty good idea.

After all, it was his work with microwave amplification by stimulated emission of radiation - masers - that set the stage for the optical lasers to come. In fact, he and others theorized that lasers could be built a couple of years before Maiman did it. Townes' research earned him a share of the 1964 Nobel Prize in physics.

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