Media Advisory: Exhibit, talk at Lawrence Hall of Science celebrates laser’s 50th birthday

ATTENTION: Science writers, editors and producers; assignment editors


A 50th-anniversary exhibit on the laser, highlighted by a free public talk by Nobel Laureate Charles Townes, who conceived the idea of a laser in the 1950s.

The three-day “LaserFest” exhibit at the Lawrence Hall of Science (LHS) and the talk by Townes, a University of California, Berkeley, professor emeritus of physics, kicks off a year of celebrations of the first working laser, built in 1960.


The free public lecture and celebration of Townes’ accomplishment is at 4:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 25. The exhibit, on display Jan. 23-25, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., is included in the price of admission to LHS.


Lawrence Hall of Science, Centennial Drive, UC Berkeley


Speakers at the Jan. 25 event, “The Past, Present and Future of Lasers,” are:

  • Charles Townes, UC Berkeley professor emeritus of physics and 1964 Nobel Laureate in physics
  • Roger Falcone, UC Berkeley professor of physics and director of the Advanced Light Source at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
  • Robert L. Byer, Stanford University professor of applied physics and vice president-elect of the American Physical Society


This year is the 50th anniversary of the first working laser, built from a synthetic ruby by the late Theodore Maiman, then with Hughes Research Laboratories in Malibu, Calif. Maiman based his device on the ideas of Townes, who demonstrated microwave amplification by stimulated emission of radiation – the maser – in 1954, and who subsequently, with the late physicist Arthur Schawlow, laid out the design for visible light and infrared versions that later were dubbed lasers.

Since then, entire fields have sprung up around the laser, which plays an essential role in the fields of astronomy, chemistry, physics and biology. More than a dozen Nobel Prizes have been awarded for work done with lasers, starting with Townes’ Nobel Prize in Physics in 1964. Lasers have been incorporated in consumer electronics, such as the DVD; in telecommunications equipment; in surveying equipment and printers; in dentistry and corrective eye surgery; in light shows and laser pointers.

At the Lawrence Hall of Science, much of the main lobby and some of the downstairs area will house hands-on exhibits and demonstrations laying out the concept behind the laser and showing how lasers affect our daily lives. An exhibit by the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory will show how the world’s largest and highest-energy laser will be used to create nuclear fusion in the laboratory.

Following Townes’ lecture on the origin of the laser and its importance in society today, Falcone and Byers, a UC Berkeley alumnus, will discuss the future of lasers, which promise to be ultra- fast and big.

The LHS exhibit, a cooperative project with the UC Berkeley Department of Physics and NIF, is sponsored in part by the Optical Society of America and the American Physical Society. Other LaserFest events throughout the San Francisco Bay Area will take place at the Exploratorium in San Francisco and at Stanford University, as well as at the SPIE conference, Photonics West, in San Francisco from Jan. 23-28.

Media R.S.V.P.: Media are invited to visit the Laserfest exhibit at LHS and to cover the talk by Townes. For access to the exhibit or for more information, contact Maria Hjelm, (510) 642-5979 or