Theodore Harold "Ted" Maiman (July 11, 1927 – May 5, 2007) was an
American engineer and physicist who was widely, but not universally,
credited with the invention of the laser (Others attribute the
invention to Gordon Gould). Maiman's laser led to
the subsequent development of many other types of lasers. The
laser was successfully fired on May 16, 1960. In a July 7, 1960 press
conference in Manhattan, Maiman and his employer, Hughes Aircraft
Company, announced the laser to the world. Maiman was granted a
patent for his invention, and he received many awards and honors
for his work. Maiman's experiences in developing the first laser and
subsequent related events are described in his book, The Laser
1 Life and career
2 Awards and recognition
5 External links
Life and career
Maiman was born in
Los Angeles, California
Los Angeles, California to Abraham "Abe" Maiman, an
electrical engineer and inventor, and Rose Abramson. At a young
age his family moved to Denver, Colorado, where he helped his father
with experimentation in a home electronics laboratory. In his teens
Maiman earned money by repairing electrical appliances and radios,
and after leaving high school was employed as a junior engineer with
the National Union Radio Company at age 17.
Following a year's service in the U.S. Navy at the end of World War
II, he earned a B.S. in Engineering
Physics from the University of
Colorado Boulder. Maiman then went on to graduate studies at Stanford
University where he earned an M.S. in
Electrical Engineering in 1951
and a PhD in
Physics in 1955.
His doctoral thesis in experimental physics, under the direction of
physicist Willis Lamb, involved detailed microwave-optical
measurements of fine structural splittings in excited helium atoms. He
also devised laboratory instrumentation for Lamb's experiments. Maiman
published two articles jointly with Lamb in Physical Review, the
second of which was based on his own thesis research. His
thesis experiment was instrumental in his development of the
In 1956 Maiman started work with the Atomic
Physics Department of the
Hughes Aircraft Company
Hughes Aircraft Company (later
Hughes Research Laboratories
Hughes Research Laboratories or HRL
Laboratories) in California where he led the ruby maser redesign
project for the U.S. Army Signal Corps, reducing it from a 2.5-ton
cryogenic device to 4 pounds while improving its
performance.:88 As a result of this success Maiman persuaded
Hughes management to use company funds to support his laser project
beginning in mid-1959. On a total budget of $50,000, Maiman turned to
the development of a laser based on his own design with a synthetic
ruby crystal, which other scientists seeking to make a laser felt
would not work.
On May 16, 1960, at Hughes' Malibu, California, labs, Maiman's
solid-state pink ruby laser emitted mankind's first coherent
light—with rays all the same wavelength and fully in phase.
Maiman documented his invention in Nature and published
other scholarly articles describing the science and technology
underlying his laser.
Maiman had begun conceptualizing a solid-state laser design even
before he undertook the maser project at Hughes.:45:45 Moving
the microwave frequency of masers up the electromagnetic spectrum
50,000-fold to the frequency of light would require finding a feasible
lasing medium and excitation source and designing the
system.:34–37 Other major research groups at IBM, Bell Labs,
RCA and Columbia University, among others, were
also pursuing projects to develop a laser.:7:45
Their work was stimulated by a 1958 paper by Arthur L. Schawlow and
Charles H. Townes
Charles H. Townes offering theoretical analysis and a proposal for a
gaseous system using potassium vapor excited by a potassium
lamp.:216:92 However, Maiman identified multiple flaws in
the Schawlow-Townes proposal and pursued his own solid-state
design.:111:151–156 His successful design utilized
synthetic pink ruby crystal as the lasing medium and a helical xenon
flash lamp as the excitation source.:226–234:170–182 As
Townes later wrote, "Maiman's laser had several aspects not considered
in our theoretical paper, nor discussed by others before the ruby
Following his invention of the laser, in 1961 Maiman and seven
colleagues departed Hughes to join the newly formed Quantatron
company, which grew in-house ruby crystals for lasers. In 1962 Maiman
founded and became the president of the Korad Corporation, which
manufactured high-power ruby lasers. After Korad was fully
Union Carbide in 1968, Maiman left to found Maiman
Associates, a venture capital firm. In 1971 Maiman founded the Laser
Video Corporation, and from 1976 to 1983 he worked as vice president
for advanced technology at TRW Electronics (now Northrop
Grumman).:232 He later served as consultant to
Laser Centers of
America, Inc. (now
LCA-Vision Inc.) and director of Control Laser
Corporation. Maiman continued his involvement in laser developments
and applications. In addition to his patent for the first working
laser, Maiman authored a number of patents on masers, lasers, laser
displays, optical scanning, and modulation.
Awards and recognition
Maiman received numerous prizes, awards, and accolades over the years
for his development of the first laser. He was given membership in
both the National Academies of Sciences and Engineering. He was
made a Fellow of the American Physical Society, the
Optical Society of
America (OSA), and the Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation
Engineers (SPIE). In 1962 Maiman was awarded the Franklin
Stuart Ballantine Medal for physics.
In 1966 Maiman received the American Physical Society's Oliver E.
Buckley Condensed Matter Prize and the Fannie and John Hertz
Foundation Award for distinguished contribution in the field of
science, presented in a White House ceremony by President Lyndon
B. Johnson. In 1976 Maiman was awarded the
Optical Society of
America's R.W. Wood Prize for "Pioneer Development of the First
Laser". He was the recipient of the 1983/84 Wolf Prize in Physics
and was also inducted into the
National Inventors Hall of Fame
National Inventors Hall of Fame that
year. In 1987 Maiman was awarded the Japan Prize in
Electro-Optics for "realization of the world's first laser." In
1994 he was inducted as an honorary fellow of the Royal College of
Surgeons of England, the only non-physician, non-royal member. Time
magazine cited Maiman's invention of the laser as among the twenty
most important technological developments of the 20th century.
Many universities granted Maiman honorary degrees, with the last from
Simon Fraser University
Simon Fraser University in 2002.
Recognition for Maiman and his laser invention continued posthumously.
In a 2007 obituary testimonial, maser co-inventor Charles H. Townes
described Maiman's 1960 Nature article on his laser as "probably more
important per word than any of the papers published by Nature over the
past century." The annual
Theodore Maiman Student Paper
Competition was established in 2008, endowed by major laser groups,
and is administered by the OSA Foundation. In 2010 numerous events
were staged worldwide by major scientific and industry photonics
organizations to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Maiman's first
laser and subsequent lasers under the umbrella of LaserFest.
Related to these events, the U.S. Congress passed a resolution
celebrating the invention of the laser and citing Maiman. Also in
2010 Maiman's laser achievement was recognized as an IEEE
Milestone, and the
American Physical Society
American Physical Society presented Hughes
Research Laboratories with a plaque to commemorate the historic site
of the world's first laser.
In 2011 Maiman was recognized by
Stanford University as a "Stanford
Engineering Hero," citing his "rare blend of advanced training in
physics and engineering combined with significant laboratory
experience." In 2014 the
National Academy of Sciences
National Academy of Sciences published a
biographical memoir of Maiman including a tribute by Nick Holonyak,
Maiman died from systemic mastocytosis on May 5, 2007 in Vancouver,
British Columbia, Canada, where he lived with his wife,
^ Lengyel, Bela A. (1962). Lasers: Generation of Light by Simulated
Emission. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 22–28.
^ Bromberg, Joan Lisa (1991). The
Laser in America, 1950–1970. MIT
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^ a b c d Bertolotti, Mario (2005). The History of the Laser.
Physics Publishing. pp. 226–234.
^ a b Townes, Charles H. (2003). Laura Garwin and Tim Lincoln, ed.
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Changed Science and the World. University of Chicago Press.
^ a b c d e f g h Hecht, Jeff (2005). Beam: The Race to Make the
Laser. Oxford University Press. pp. 106–15, 169–82.
^ Johnson, John Jr. (May 11, 2008). "Theodore H. Maiman, at age 32;
scientist created the first LASER". Los Angeles Times. Missing
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^ "Maiman Builds First Working Laser".
Physics History: May 16, 1960.
APS News 19. May 2010.
^ "The First Ruby Laser". LaserFest. Retrieved December 31,
^ "Voila. That was it! The
Laser was born! Celebrating 50 Years of
Laser Technology, 1960–2010". HRL Laboratories LLC. Retrieved
December 31, 2013.
^ a b c d e f g Martin, Douglas (11 May 2007). "Theodore Maiman, 79,
Dies; Demonstrated First Laser". The New York Times.
^ "Speech by Dr. Theodore H. Maiman, Hughes Aircraft Company, at a
Press Conference at the Hotel Delmonico" (PDF). New York. July 7,
1960. Retrieved December 31, 2013.
^ U.S. Patent 3,353,115
^ a b c d e Maiman, Theodore H. (2000). The
Laser Odyssey: Creator of
the World's First Laser.
Laser Press. ISBN 0-9702927-0-8.
Retrieved December 2, 2015.
^ a b c d e "Theodore Maiman". The Telegraph. May 11, 2007.
^ a b c "
Laser Inventor, Biography of
Theodore Maiman from
laserinventor.com". Retrieved December 31, 2013.
^ a b Waters, Rod (2013). Maiman's Invention of the Laser: How Science
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^ Maiman, T.H.; Lamb, Jr., W.E. (May 1955). "Triplet Fine Structure of
Helium". Physical Review. 98 (4): 1194. Bibcode:1955PhRv...98.1144..
^ Lamb, Jr., W.E.; Maiman, T.H. (January 15, 1957). "Measurement of
the Fine Structure Separation 333P1 – 33P2 for the Helium Atom".
Physical Review. 105 (2): 573–79. Bibcode:1957PhRv..105..573L.
^ a b Bromberg, Joan (February 5, 1985). "Oral History Transcript–
Dr. Irnee D'Haenens - Interview". American Institute of Physics, Niels
Bohr Library & Archives. Retrieved December 31, 2013.
^ Smith, George F. (June 1984). excerpted as "Maiman's Work" HRL
Laboratories. "The Early
Laser Years at Hughes Aircraft Company"
IEEE Journal of Quantum Electronics QE-20. 6: 577–84.
Retrieved December 2, 2015.
^ Theodore H. Maiman (1985). "The First Laser".
Interviews. High Tech Publications. pp. 85–99. Missing or
empty url= (help)
^ Oakes, Elizabeth H. (2009). "Theodore Maiman". A to Z of STS
Scientists. p. 189. ISBN 978-1-4381-0925-1. Retrieved
December 2, 2015.
^ Maiman, Theodore (August 6, 1960). "Stimulated Optical Radiation in
Ruby". Nature. 187 (4736): 493–94. Bibcode:1960Natur.187..493M.
^ Maiman, T.H. (June 1, 1960). "Optical and Microwave-Optical
Experiments in Ruby".
Physical Review Letters. 4 (11): 564–66.
^ Maiman, T.H. (September 1960). "Optical
Maser Action in Ruby".
British Communications & Electronics: 674–76.
access-date= requires url= (help)
^ Maiman, T.H. (November 1960). "TC1 Stimulated Optical Emission in
Ruby". Journal of the
Optical Society of America. 50 (11): 1134.
^ Maiman, T.H. (August 15, 1961). "Stimulated Optical Emission in
Fluorescent Solids I: Theoretical Considerations". Physical Review.
123 (4): 1145–50. Bibcode:1961PhRv..123.1145M.
^ T.H. Maiman; R.H. Hoskins; I.J. D'Haenens; C.K. Asawa & V.
Evtuhov (August 15, 1961). "Stimulated Optical Emission in Fluorescent
Solids II: Spectroscopy and Stimulated Emission in Ruby". Physical
Review. 123 (4): 1151–57. Bibcode:1961PhRv..123.1151M.
^ Lengyel, Bela A. (1971). Lasers (2nd ed.). Wiley-Interscience.
pp. 41–42. ISBN 0-471-52620-7.
^ Schawlow, A.L.; Townes, C.H. (December 1958). "Infrared and Optical
Masers". Physical Review. 112 (6): 1940–1949.
^ D'Haenens, I.J. (October 2007). "Obituary: Theodore Harold Maiman".
Physics Today. 60 (10): 72. Bibcode:2007PhT....60j..72D.
doi:10.1063/1.2800106. Retrieved December 2, 2015.
^ Lengyel, Bela A. (1966). Introduction to
Laser Physics. John Wiley
& Sons. pp. 90–101.
Laser Pioneer Ted Maiman Dies at 79". LaserFocusWorld. May 15,
2007. Retrieved December 31, 2013.
^ a b Day, Lance; McNeil, Ian (1996). Lance Day, Ian McNeil, eds.
Biographical Dictionary of the History of Technology. p. 796.
ISBN 978-1-134-65020-0. Retrieved December 2, 2015. CS1
maint: Uses editors parameter (link)
Lyndon B. Johnson
Lyndon B. Johnson (April 27, 1966). Online by Gerhard Peters and
John T. Woolley. "Remarks on Presenting the Fannie and John Hertz
Foundation Award to Dr. All Javan and Dr. Theodore H. Maiman". The
American Presidency Project. Retrieved December 31, 2013.
^ "Inventor Profile: Theodore Harold Maiman". National Inventors Hall
of Fame. Archived from the original on January 7, 2014. Retrieved
December 31, 2013.
^ "Laureates". The
Japan Prize Foundation. Retrieved December 31,
^ "20th Century Technology". Time. Retrieved February 2, 2015.
^ a b "List of
IEEE Global History Network. IEEE.
Retrieved August 3, 2011.
^ Townes, Charles H. (June 7, 2007). "Obituary: Theodore H. Maiman
(1927–2007), Maker of the First Laser". Nature. 447 (7145): 654.
^ "Maiman Student Paper Competition". OSA. Retrieved December 31,
^ "LaserFest: Celebrating 50 Years of
Laser Innovation". Retrieved
December 2, 2015.
^ "Recognizing the 50th Anniversary of the Laser". House Resolution
1310, 111th Congress. Retrieved December 31, 2013.
^ "Theodore Maiman: Hughes Research Laboratories, Malibu, California".
APS Historic Sites. Retrieved December 31, 2013.
Stanford Engineering Heroes".
Stanford University. Archived
from the original on January 7, 2014. Retrieved December 31,
^ Andrew H. Rawicz (2014). Theodore H. Maiman (1927–2007) (PDF).
National Academy of Sciences. pp. 23–31. Retrieved February 2,
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Focus, Personal Warmth". Electronic Design. Retrieved December 31,
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Theodore Maiman.
Theodore H. Maiman via
IEEE Global History Network
Bright Idea: The First Lasers (history)
Time Photos, "20th Century Technology: Laser"
SPIE, "Lasers and Sources, Video:
Theodore Maiman on the First Laser"
SPIE, "Lasers and Sources, Video: Maiman's First
Laser Light Shines
SPIE, "Video: Celebrating 50 Years of the Laser" on YouTube
CLEO, "Video: The World's First Laser, Made by Ted Maiman on May 16,
1960" on YouTube
MIT Tech TV, "Video: The
Laser at 50, symposium, October 8, 2010"
Laureates of the Wolf Prize in Physics
Chien-Shiung Wu (1978)
George Uhlenbeck /
Giuseppe Occhialini (1979)
Michael Fisher /
Leo Kadanoff /
Kenneth G. Wilson (1980)
Freeman Dyson / Gerardus 't Hooft / Victor Weisskopf (1981)
Leon M. Lederman
Leon M. Lederman /
Martin Lewis Perl (1982)
Erwin Hahn /
Peter Hirsch /
Theodore Maiman (1983–84)
Conyers Herring /
Philippe Nozières (1984–85)
Mitchell Feigenbaum /
Albert J. Libchaber (1986)
Herbert Friedman /
Bruno Rossi /
Riccardo Giacconi (1987)
Roger Penrose /
Stephen Hawking (1988)
Pierre-Gilles de Gennes /
David J. Thouless
David J. Thouless (1990)
Maurice Goldhaber /
Valentine Telegdi (1991)
Joseph H. Taylor Jr. (1992)
Benoît Mandelbrot (1993)
Vitaly Ginzburg /
Yoichiro Nambu (1994–95)
John Wheeler (1996–97)
Yakir Aharonov / Michael Berry (1998)
Dan Shechtman (1999)
Raymond Davis Jr.
Raymond Davis Jr. /
Masatoshi Koshiba (2000)
Bertrand Halperin / Anthony Leggett (2002–03)
Robert Brout /
François Englert /
Peter Higgs (2004)
Daniel Kleppner (2005)
Albert Fert /
Peter Grünberg (2006–07)
John F. Clauser /
Alain Aspect /
Anton Zeilinger (2010)
Maximilian Haider /
Harald Rose /
Knut Urban (2011)
Jacob Bekenstein (2012)
Peter Zoller / Juan Ignacio Cirac (2013)
James D. Bjorken / Robert P. Kirshner (2015)
Yoseph Imry (2016)
Michel Mayor /
Didier Queloz (2017)
Charles H. Bennett /
Gilles Brassard (2018)
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