an optical clock

Optics Timeline

Optics is the physical science that studies the origin and propagation of light, how it changes, what effects it produces, and other phenomena associated with it. This "Optics Timeline" highlights important events and developments in the science of optics from prehistory to the beginning of the 21st century. It also includes related developments in other fields and related milestones in the human worldview.


1960 — First working LASER (ruby laser)

Theodore Mainman

1960 — Begin investigating hollow optical waveguides with regularly spaced lenses.

George Goubau at Army Electronics Command Lab, Bell Telephone Labs and Standard Telecommunication Labs

1960 — First helium-neon laser

Ali Javan, William Bennett & Donald Herriott

1960 — Development of optical lithography

Optical lithography, which uses light to transfer a pattern onto a photosensitive substance, and then etches out the pattern with chemical treatments. Used in making circuit boards.

1961 — Laser spectroscopy introduced

Arthur Schawlow and Nicolaas Bloembergen

Laser spectroscopy, which uses laser light to study matter at the atomic or molecular level.

1961 — Laser Q-switching discovered

R.W. Hellwarth and F.J. McClung

Laser Q-switching discovered, a techinique that produces a higher power, pulsed output.

1961 — Reported the first operation of a Nd:glass laser.

E. Snitzer

This laser became the first candidate as a laser weapon. It is presently the prime candidate as a laser source for fusion.

1961 — Demonstrated harmonic generation from light by passing the pulse from a ruby laser through a quartz crystal.

P. A. Franken, A. E. Hill, C. W. Peters and G. Weinreich

1961 — Proposes hollow optical pipeline made of reflective pipes.

Charles C. Eaglesfied

1961 — Demonstrate a laser beam directed through a thin glass fiber

Elias Snitzer and Will Hicks

1961 — First medical use of the ruby laser.

Charles Campbell and Charles Koester

1962 — First red-light semiconductor laser

Nick Holonyak Jr.

The first red-light semiconductor laser, made with gallium arsenide phosphide which is the basis for all of todays devices using LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes).

1962 — Produces the first white-light viewable hologram.


1962 — Development of a gallium arsenide laser

Three groups at GE, IBM and MIT's Lincoln Laboratory

Simultaneously develop a gallium arsenide laser that converts electrical energy directly into infrared light.

1962 — Stimulated Raman scattering introduced

E. J. Woodbury & W. K. Ng

Raman laser action, which uses light to increase the internal energy of the laser system, which then emits laser light at a frequency lower than the optical pump by a process called stimulated Raman scattering.

1962 — Group commissioned to study optical waveguide communications

Alec Reeves at Standard Telecomm Labs

Commissions a group to study optical waveguide communications under Antoni E. Karbowiak; this includes the study of optical fibers.

1962 — First use of an acousto-optic cell

Anthony DeMaria

Reported the first use of an acousto-optic cell to modulate and frequency translate lasers beams. Acousto-optic cells are still in wide use today.

1962 — Development of holographic techniques that allowed imnages of 3-D real world objects on film

Emmett Leith and Juris Upatnieks

Developed holographic techniques that allowed the images of 3-D real world objects to be captured on photographic film.

1963 — First reported demostration of a He-Ne mode locked laser

L. E. Hargrove, R. L. Fork, and M. A. Pollock

First reported demostration of a He-Ne mode locked laser with an acousto-optic modulator. Mode locking is the bases for femtosecond pulsed laser often used in today's research.

1963 — High-Speed Optical Identification of Printed Matter

Jacob Rabinow

1963 — Electro-Optical Scanning System for Reading Machines

Jacob Rabinow

1963 — Creation of a model for photodetection

Roy J. Glauber

Created a model for photodetection and explained the fundamental characteristics of different types of light, such as laser light (see coherent state) and light from light bulb

1963 — Ideas to build semiconductor lasers from heterostructure devices proposed

Herbert Kroemer and Zhores Alferov

Independently proposed ideas to build semiconductor lasers from heterostructure devices.

1963 — First carbon dioxide laser.

Kumar Patel

1963 — Heterostructures proposed

Herbert Kroemer

Proposes the idea of Heterostructures, combinations of more than one semiconductor built in layers that reduce energy requirements for lasers and help them work more efficiently. These heterostructures will later be used in cell phones and other electronic devices.

1963 — Flexible thin-film waveguide proposed


1964 — Invention of the holographic spatial filter for matched filtering.

A.B. Vander Lugt

1964 — Described the photodissociation Iodine laser

Jerome V. V. Kasper and George C. Pimentel

Described the photodissociation Iodine laser, which used photodissociation to produce molecules with electrons in a higher energy level state. When electrons moved to a lower energy state, they emitted light, which then start the stimulated emission process to produce this laser's output.

1964 — Optical Reading Machine with Rotary Masks

Jacob Rabinow

1964 — First ion lasers developed

William B. Bridges

First ion lasers, which use ionized gas as their lasing material.

1964 — Invention of the Nd:YAG laser

Joseph E. Geusic and Richard G. Smith

Invented the Nd:YAG laser while working at Bell Labs. It is still the major work horse for material processing applications.

1964 — Nobel prize in physics award for work in quantum electronics

Charles H. Townes & Aleksandr M. Prokharov, & Bosov

Awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics "for fundamental work in the field of quantum electronics, which has led to the construction of oscillators and amplifiers based on the maser-laser principle."

1965 — Production of the first tunable optical parametric oscillators

JA Giordmaine and Robert Miller

Built the first tunable optical parametric oscillators, which transform an optical input wave of a given frequency to two output waves whose frequencies add up to the input frequency.

1965 — Moore's law developed

Gordon Moore

Moore's Law - the observation that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit board for a computer doubles approximately every two years.

1965 — Compact Disk (CD) invented

James Russell

1965 — Optical Logic Reading Machine developed

Jacob Rabinow

1965 — Optical Character Reading Machine with a Photocell Mosaic Examining Device

Jacob Rabinow

1965 — Photosensitive Optical Scanning Device for Meter Indicators

Jacob Rabinow

1965 — Vehicle guidance by optical means patented

Jacob Rabinow

1965 — Optical Mask Reading Machine

Jacob Rabinow

1965 — Reported the first generation of picosec


Reported the first generation of picosec, laser pulses using a Nd:glass laser and a saturable absorber. They reported simutanous Q-switching and mode-locking with 100's of megawatts of peak power.

1966 — Nobel prize in physics awarded for study of Hertzian resonances in atoms.

Alfred Kastler

Awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics "for the discovery and development of optical methods for studying Hertzian resonances in atoms"

1966 — First organic dye laser built.

P. P. Sorokon and J. R. Lankard

The first organic dye laser, which uses an organic liquid dye to produce the laser light. The wide range of frequencies of the output of these lasers makes them good as tunable lasers.

1966 — Landmark paper demonstrating that optical fiber can transmit laser signals and much reduced loss if the glass strands are pure enough.

Charles K. Kao & Goerge Hockham of Standard telecommunications Laboratories in England

1966 — Optical card translator system developed

Jacob Rabinow

Optical Card Translator System to identify quicly and accurately information on computer punch cards and microfilm

1966 — Described studies of the propagation of very short optical pulses through a medium consisting of resonant two level atoms

S. L. McCall and E. L. Hahn

Described studies of the propagation of very short optical pulses through a medium consisting of resonant two level atoms, developing in the process the criteria to be satisfied by the shape of the pulse so that it would propagate as an optical soliton (the area theorem) and describing the propagation mechanism of self-induced transparency (SIT).

1966 — First operation of the CO2 gas dynamic laser was accomplished

E. Gerry and A. Kantrowitz

First operation of the CO2 gas dynamic laser was accomplished, which uses vibrational states of the molecule and can be pumped (energy input) by compustion or gas expansion. This laser was the first seriously considered laser weapon which was kept classified until 1970.

1967 — Invented the computer- generated hologram

A.W. Lohmann and D.P. Paris

1967 — Graded-index optical fibers proposed

Proposes graded-index optical fibers. These fibers interact with light differently as you go from the center of the fiber radially out toward the edge of the fiber.

1968 — Apollo 8 takes the first photograph of Earth from space
1968 — NASA launches the first satellite equipped with a laser beam.

Earth-based lasers transmit information to orbiting satellites. Astronauts place laser reflectors on the moon.

1968 — Measure intrinsic loss of bulk fused silica providing the first evidence of ultratransparent glass.

C. K. Kao and M. W. Jones

1968 — White light (rainbow) transmission holography developed.

Stephen Benton

This invention made possible mass production of holograms using an embossing technique.

1969 — Patent received for a Optical Reading Machine

Jacob Rabinow

Patent for Optical Reading Machine and Specially Prepared Documents. This machine would be able to read characters written in ordinary ink and visible fluorescent markings.

1969 — Invents Charge Coupled Devices (CCD)

George Smith and Willard Boyle

1969 — Demonstration of fiber optic transmission at Physics Exhibition in London

Martin Chown of STL

1969 — Development of molecular-beam epitaxy (MBE).

J. R. Arthur & A.Y. Cho of Bell Labs

Using this technology laser action could be generated efficiently using less current.