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Special Report

The Laser at 50: Advancing Science through Beams of Coherent Light

May 16 marks the 50th anniversary of the first working laser, invented at Hughes Research Laboratories in 1960. We take a look at the past, present and potential future of this groundbreaking technology

  • May 14, 2010

Key Moments in the Laser's First Half Century

Former Hughes Aircraft Company researchers Daniel Nieuwsma and Bob Byren recall the birth of the laser and the past three decades they have spent taking the technology in new directions

May 14, 2010 — Larry Greenemeier

World's largest laser completed: Nuclear fusion, Death Star battle stations next?

The U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) has announced that the world's biggest laser is ready to start blasting away after 12 years in the making. The $3.5-billion stadium-size National Ignition Facility (NIF), housed at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in Livermore, Calif., consists of 192 separate beams, each of which stands as the most energetic ever built, says LLNL spokesperson Bob Hirschfeld.

April 1, 2009 — Adam Hadhazy

Laser-etched metal makes liquid flow uphill

Researchers have devised a way to make liquid flow against gravity through capillary action by etching tiny channels into the surface of a metal plate with a high-intensity laser.

June 3, 2009 — John Matson

Are laser-powered spacecraft just a shot in the dark?

Nearly a decade ago, Leik Myrabo shared with Scientific American readers his vision for the future of space travel: a "LightCraft" pushed out to the stars by a pulsed infrared laser beam from the ground or pulled into space by a laser beamed down from a solar-powered station orbiting Earth.

February 23, 2009 — Larry Greenemeier

U.S. Homeland Security seeks to arm commercial airliners with antimissile lasers

The persistent concern of when and where terrorists will strike next—heightened by the Mumbai attacks—has led to a number of tech innovations over the past several years, including full-body airport security scanners and adhesives designed to keep buildings from blowing to pieces if bombed.

December 19, 2008 — Larry Greenemeier
Space Wars - Coming to the Sky Near You?

Space Wars - Coming to the Sky Near You?

A recent shift in U.S. military strategy and provocative actions by china threaten to ignite a new arms race in space. But would placing weapons in space be in anyone's national interest?

March 1, 2008 — Theresa Hitchens

Long-Lost Lunar Soviet Laser Reflector Found

A still-useful laser reflector, Lunokhod 1, left on the moon in 1970 and missing since 1971 has finally been spotted by researchers at the U.C. San Diego, working with NASA images. Cynthia Graber reports

April 27, 2010

Lasers Let Lightning Loose

Researchers have used powerful lasers to induce lightning in thunderclouds. Cynthia Graber reports.

April 22, 2008
Cheap Light

Cheap Light

Microlasers go deeper into the infrared to boost optical networking

February 1, 2001 — Gary Stix

Lasers at the cutting edge of science

"When you flash a laser for the first time…it's like you've created something magical." Tom Baer, executive director of the Stanford Photonics Research Center, said this to me recently when I asked him why he's spent the past three decades both studying and developing the technology.Aesthetics aside, Baer says he's seeing a "renaissance" in laser technology in recent years.

May 14, 2010 — Larry Greenemeier