Press release

New SPIE Award Celebrates 60th Birthday of the Laser; Robert L. Byer is Inaugural Recipient

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SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, has announced the creation of the annual SPIE Maiman Laser Award. Launched to mark the 60th anniversary of the laser’s invention, this newest SPIE Society Award recognizes individuals who have made sustained contributions to laser source science and technology at the highest level.

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“The image is a diode-laser pumped Verdi 5W green laser manufactured by Coherent,” notes Byer. “The Nd:YVO4 (Neodymium Yttrium Vanadate) infrared laser is frequency doubled to the green using a Lithium Borate (LBO) nonlinear crystal. The 5W of green scatters from the air in the laboratory to make the visible laser beam and is enough power to require the wearing of laser safety goggles. This green laser was designed for research as a pump laser for a tunable titanium-doped sapphire laser that is tunable in the red region of the spectrum.” (Photo Credit: Misha Bruk)

“The image is a diode-laser pumped Verdi 5W green laser manufactured by Coherent,” notes Byer. “The Nd:YVO4 (Neodymium Yttrium Vanadate) infrared laser is frequency doubled to the green using a Lithium Borate (LBO) nonlinear crystal. The 5W of green scatters from the air in the laboratory to make the visible laser beam and is enough power to require the wearing of laser safety goggles. This green laser was designed for research as a pump laser for a tunable titanium-doped sapphire laser that is tunable in the red region of the spectrum.” (Photo Credit: Misha Bruk)

Robert L. Byer, a professor of applied physics and photon science at Stanford University’s School of Humanities and Sciences and a professor of photon science at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, has been concurrently announced as the award’s inaugural recipient. Byer has received the 2020 SPIE Maiman Laser Award in recognition of sustained contributions and high impact in diode-pumped solid-state lasers and nonlinear optical sources.

Byer’s illustrious career in laser technology includes developing the first visible, tunable red laser and the Q-switched unstable resonator Nd:YAG laser as well as demonstrating remote sensing using tunable infrared sources and utilizing precision spectroscopy using Coherent Anti-Stokes Raman Scattering (CARS). Out of more than 50 patents, Byer’s favorite remains his green laser pointer patent because it grew directly out of a student’s question during class. That invention has had prolific and mainstream use including as a lecture pointer, a pointer for astronomy, a rescue flare for sailors at sea, and, using a frequency-doubled light to generate green wavelengths, as a laser for color television. Byer has pursued his research and taught classes in lasers and nonlinear optics at Stanford since 1969. Earlier this year, he delivered a LASE plenary during SPIE Photonics West entitled “Accelerators on a Chip: A Path to Attosecond Science.”

“I grew up in Southern California surfing ocean waves from San Diego to Malibu Beach,” notes Byer. “My career has been in lasers and nonlinear optics where I have had the good fortune of surfing light waves with colleagues and friends from around the world. The demonstration of the first laser by Ted Maiman 60 years ago in the Hughes Research Laboratory, located above Malibu Beach, opened the door to the laser and all of its applications from communications to the detection of gravitational waves. I am thrilled to be selected as the inaugural recipient of the SPIE Maiman Laser Award.”

“Bob has been a tireless pioneer and promoter of solid-state laser technology for decades,” says Maiman Laser Award Subcommittee Chair and physics professor at ETH Zurich Ursula Keller. “He has worked on and developed new laser physics and technology, novel materials, and large, high-impact science projects based on key laser technology such as gravity waves, laser fusion, and particle acceleration. His work has had critical commercial impact, he has international collaborators all over the world, and is a leader in terms of the education of laser scientists. And, for me personally, as a former graduate student, he is simply one of the most inspiring professors at Stanford.”

Theodore Harold Maiman demonstrated the world’s first working laser, a ruby laser, on 16 May 1960. “This ruby laser was not only the first demonstration of a working laser,” notes SPIE Society Awards committee member Martin Richardson, who is also the founding director of the Townes Laser Institute at CREOL. “It demonstrated, for the first time, laser action in a solid-state medium. At that time, there was a global race to demonstrate the first laser, involving many different research groups, nearly all chasing this dream by using electrical excitation of gaseous media. It was Maiman’s insight and understanding of the atomic physics of ruby, and his recognition of using transient optical pumping that led to his pioneering success. Robert Byer’s lifelong career in laser research with solid-state media embodies that same level of insight making him our clear and obvious choice to receive the inaugural SPIE Maiman Laser Award.”

Maiman received numerous recognitions for his career-long work with lasers including induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, the Wolf Prize in Physics, and the Japan Prize. He was a Fellow of SPIE and was awarded the SPIE President’s Award in 1985. In honor of Maiman’s earliest successful operation of a laser, 16 May has been designated as the International Day of Light by UNESCO, celebrated annually since 2018.

About SPIE

SPIE is the international society for optics and photonics, an educational not-for-profit organization founded in 1955 to advance light-based science, engineering, and technology. The Society serves more than 255,000 constituents from 183 countries, offering conferences and their published proceedings, continuing education, books, journals, and the SPIE Digital Library. In 2019, SPIE provided more than $5.6 million in community support including scholarships and awards, outreach and advocacy programs, travel grants, public policy, and educational resources. www.spie.org.