A Popular History of the Laser

Stephen R. Wilk

Long before Ted Maiman made the first ruby laser work, the concept of directed light had already entered the public consciousness—through all manner of sci-fi ray guns, “blasters,” and hand-held beams.


imageThe starship Enterprise from Star Trek shoots laser beams.

There are several distinguished histories of the laser, including Jeff Hecht’s Beam: the Race to Make the Laser, which was published by Oxford University Press in 2005, Mario Bertolotti’s History of the Laser (Institute of Physics Press, 1999) and Charles Townes’ How the Laser Happened (Oxford University Press, 1999). Those books delved into the laser’s technical development and the real-life drama behind it. But I would like to explore something else entirely—the way the laser was perceived by the public.

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