ID 141
Title The Death-Ray in Your Pocket - 50 Years of Lasers
Broadcast 2010-06-02 00:00:00
Network Radio 4
Presenter Hermione Cockburn
Producer Mike Hally
Precis It's often claimed you're never more than 10 feet from a rat, and you could probably say the same about lasers. In the home and at the shops, throughout medicine, the military, and almost everywhere else the laser has become one of the most ubiquitous pieces of modern technology. And that's in just 50 years, not bad for a device that, after its first successful test on 16th May 1960 was immediately dubbed “a solution looking for a problem”.
Duration 28
Txtime 1899-12-30 21:00:00
Repeat
Rpttime
Description It's often claimed you're never more than 10 feet from a rat, and you could probably say the same about lasers. In the home and at the shops, throughout medicine, the military, and almost everywhere else the laser has become one of the most ubiquitous pieces of modern technology. And that's in just 50 years, not bad for a device that, after its first successful test on 16th May 1960 was immediately dubbed “a solution looking for a problem”.

Dr Hermione Cockburn tells the story of the invention of the laser, a battle that consumed some of the biggest names in electronics for almost two years -- millions of dollars were spent by some of the contenders but an outsider beat them all to it with a beautifully simple design. Still there's no simple answer to the question “who invented the laser” so this is the story of the leading claimants, assisted by extracts from their oral histories.

The programme also shows some of the many applications that resulted. While it's never become the “death-ray” of science-fiction, it has found many military uses, like laser-guided “precision” bombs and we'll reveal a new development – a non-lethal anti-piracy laser for merchant shipping. In medicine, laser eye surgery's now commonplace, but there are many more uses including the new field of photo-dynamic therapy – drugs taken in the normal way but only activated by laser light, so allowing precise targeting of some cancers.

And there's the world of art, where lasers have wowed audiences since the early days and are still stunning as we find out in a new installation on the South Bank, along with a visit to one of the world's biggest collections of laser holography, also in London. A lively and informative look at the laser.

SqDogNumber 33
Pic1
Caption1 The bottle-marking machine featured at the start of the programme, displayed in SPIE Photonics Europe 2010, the annual conference and exhibition of developments in laser science (picture: Hermione Cockburn). See also Laserfest
Pic2
Caption2 Detail of the bottle-marking machine above. In this version a line of small glass medicine bottles is being shuttled from right to left by the white corkscrew shaft, first past a laser that marks the inside of the glass with a tiny coded passage, then past a second laser that reads the code for verification and record-keeping (picture: Hermione Cockburn)
Pic3
Caption3 One of the rooms in the 'Speed of Light' installation by United Visual Artists for Virgin Media to mark 10 years of broadband internet in the UK (picture: UVA). See United Visual Artists for more info and pictures, and even better pics at 'Creative Review'!
Pic4
Caption4 A display of high-performance lasers of various wavelengths (ie colours) mainly for use in bio-medical applications (also seen at SPIE Photonics Europe, picture: Hermione Cockburn)
Pic5
Caption5