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Theodore Maiman

AKA Theodore Harold Maiman

Born: 11-Jul-1927
Birthplace: Los Angeles, CA
Died: 5-May-2007
Location of death: Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Cause of death: Cancer - other [1]

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Physicist, Inventor

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Built the first working laser

American physicist Theodore "Ted" Maiman studied under Nobel laureate Willis Lamb at Stanford, and was an enthusiastic follower of developments involving the maser (microwave amplification by stimulated emission of radiation). He read Arthur L. Schawlow and Charles H. Townes' 1957 article "Infrared and Optical Masers, which appeared in Physics Review, proposing that masers could be adapted to the optical realm. What Schawlow, Townes, and others had not ascertained, however, was how to actually build a device that could create coherent light (light of one wavelength and color).

Maiman had to argue with his supervisors at Hughes Research Laboratories, a subsidiary of Hughes Aircraft, to get permission to pursue his ideas and build his device. It was a surprisingly small machine, easily held in the palm of one's hand, which looked a little like a corkscrew inside an empty roll of toilet paper, focusing the ordinary light of a high-intensity lamp into a synthetic ruby crystal with ends polished flat, parallel, and mirrored.

On 16 May 1960, in front of skeptical colleagues, the machine successfully converted white light into a pulsing beam of monochromatic coherent light the first working demonstration of laser (light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation). Curiously, his paper on the topic was rejected by Physical Review Letters, but was published months later in the British journal Nature. Maiman foresaw the laser's constructive uses, and after demonstrating the device at a press conference he was dismayed when media accounts glibly described it as a "death ray". For the rest of his life he worked to advance the technology's peaceful and medical applications. He died in 2007.

[1] Systemic mastocytosis, a disease characterized by the presence of too many mast cells in various organs and tissues.

Father: Abraham Maiman (AT&T engineer, b. 1884, d. 1965)
Wife: Kathleen Heath
Daughter: Cynthia Maiman Sanford

    University: BS Engineering Physics, University of Colorado (1949)
    University: Columbia University (dropped out)
    University: MS Electrical Engineering, Stanford University (1951)
    University: PhD, Stanford University (1955)

    TRW Consultant, Advanced Technology (1977-99)
    Maiman Associates Founder and CEO (1968-77)
    Union Carbide Founder and CEO, Korad Solid State Corp. (1962-69)
    Quantatron Laser physicist (1961-62)
    Hughes Aircraft Physicist, Hughes Research Laboratories (1955-61)
    Member of the Board of Control Laser Corporation
    Franklin Institute Stuart Ballantine Medal 1962
    APS Oliver E. Buckley Condensed Matter Prize 1966
    Fannie and John Hertz Science Award 1966
    Wolf Prize in Physics 1983-4
    National Inventors Hall of Fame 1985
    SPIE President's Award 1985
    Japan Prize 1987
    American Institute of Physics
    National Academy of Engineering
    Optical Society of America
    R& D Magazine Editorial Board
    Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers
    Jewish Ancestry

Author of books:
The Laser Odyssey (2000)

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