Milestone-Proposal:IEEE Milestone for the Demonstration of the First Working Laser in Malibu, CA

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Docket #:2010-07

This is a draft proposal, that has not yet been submitted. To submit this proposal, click on the edit button in toolbar above, indicated by an icon displaying a pencil on paper. At the bottom of the form, check the box that says "Submit this proposal to the IEEE History Committee for review. Only check this when the proposal is finished" and save the page.

To the proposer’s knowledge, is this achievement subject to litigation?

Is the achievement you are proposing more than 25 years old?

Is the achievement you are proposing within IEEE’s designated fields as defined by IEEE Bylaw I-104.11, namely: Engineering, Computer Sciences and Information Technology, Physical Sciences, Biological and Medical Sciences, Mathematics, Technical Communications, Education, Management, and Law and Policy.

Did the achievement provide a meaningful benefit for humanity?

Was it of at least regional importance?

Has an IEEE Organizational Unit agreed to pay for the milestone plaque(s)?

Has the IEEE Section(s) in which the plaque(s) will be located agreed to arrange the dedication ceremony?

Has the IEEE Section in which the milestone is located agreed to take responsibility for the plaque after it is dedicated?

Has the owner of the site agreed to have it designated as an IEEE Milestone? Yes

Year or range of years in which the achievement occurred:


Title of the proposed milestone:

IEEE Milestone for the Demonstration of the First Working Laser in Malibu, CA

Plaque citation summarizing the achievement and its significance:

200-250 word abstract describing the significance of the technical achievement being proposed, the person(s) involved, historical context, humanitarian and social impact, as well as any possible controversies the advocate might need to review.

IEEE technical societies and technical councils within whose fields of interest the Milestone proposal resides.

In what IEEE section(s) does it reside?

Metro Los Angeles Section

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) which have agreed to sponsor the Milestone:

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) paying for milestone plaque(s):

Unit: Photonics Society
Senior Officer Name: Richard Linke

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) arranging the dedication ceremony:

Unit: Metro Los Angeles Section
Senior Officer Name: Dr. William Jeffrey

IEEE section(s) monitoring the plaque(s):

IEEE Section: Metro Los Angeles Section
IEEE Section Chair name: Diana Huffaker

Milestone proposer(s):

Proposer name: Alan Willner
Proposer email: Proposer's email masked to public

Please note: your email address and contact information will be masked on the website for privacy reasons. Only IEEE History Center Staff will be able to view the email address.

Street address(es) and GPS coordinates in decimal form of the intended milestone plaque site(s):

Proposed site would be the building where the invention occurred at the Hughes Research Lab in Malibu California.

Describe briefly the intended site(s) of the milestone plaque(s). The intended site(s) must have a direct connection with the achievement (e.g. where developed, invented, tested, demonstrated, installed, or operated, etc.). A museum where a device or example of the technology is displayed, or the university where the inventor studied, are not, in themselves, sufficient connection for a milestone plaque.

Please give the address(es) of the plaque site(s) (GPS coordinates if you have them). Also please give the details of the mounting, i.e. on the outside of the building, in the ground floor entrance hall, on a plinth on the grounds, etc. If visitors to the plaque site will need to go through security, or make an appointment, please give the contact information visitors will need. Proposed site would be the building where the invention occurred at the Hughes Research Lab in Malibu, California.

Are the original buildings extant?


Details of the plaque mounting:

How is the site protected/secured, and in what ways is it accessible to the public?

The site is private corporate property. Off hours, a gate surrounds the facility. During hours, the gate is open and a reception area can welcome visitors.

Who is the present owner of the site(s)?

The building is currently owned jointly by Boeing and Raytheon, and General Motors who bought this division of Hughes in 1985.

What is the historical significance of the work (its technological, scientific, or social importance)? If personal names are included in citation, include justification here. (see section 6 of Milestone Guidelines)

Theodore Maiman developed the first working laser at Hughes Research Lab in 1960, and his paper describing the operation of the first laser was published in Nature three months later. Since then, more than 55,000 patents involving the laser have been granted in the United States. Today, lasers are used in countless areas of modern life. Some examples include telecommunications, medical diagnostics and surgery, manufacturing, environmental sensing, basic scientific research, space exploration and entertainment. In the past, the IEEE has recognized the significance of the laser as being one of the key technical achievements of the 20th century.

What obstacles (technical, political, geographic) needed to be overcome?

After the Schawlow-Townes Physical Review paper was published in 1958, a furious competition ensued to build the first working laser involving institutions such as Bell Labs, Hughes Research Labs, RCA Labs, Lincoln Labs, IBM, Westinghouse, and Siemens. Most of these efforts attempted to build a continuous wave laser using electrically pumped four-level gaseous media such as ammonia. These have very low gains making it difficult to reach threshold. Higher gains could in principle be achieved in solid state media such as ruby. However, most researchers had dismissed ruby from consideration because it was a three-level system making it unlikely to achieve continuous oscillation. Maiman correctly realized that high gain pulsed oscillation could straightforwardly be achieved in ruby by optically pumping with commercial flash lamps and in May 1960 demonstrated the first laser. This laser was so easy to build that within weeks several other groups duplicated the achievement.

What features set this work apart from similar achievements?

While there were no previous lasers before Maiman’s achievement, a predecessor of the laser, called the MASER, for

Supporting texts and citations to establish the dates, location, and importance of the achievement: Minimum of five (5), but as many as needed to support the milestone, such as patents, contemporary newspaper articles, journal articles, or chapters in scholarly books. 'Scholarly' is defined as peer-reviewed, with references, and published. You must supply the texts or excerpts themselves, not just the references. At least one of the references must be from a scholarly book or journal article. All supporting materials must be in English, or accompanied by an English translation.

Supporting materials (supported formats: GIF, JPEG, PNG, PDF, DOC): All supporting materials must be in English, or if not in English, accompanied by an English translation. You must supply the texts or excerpts themselves, not just the references. For documents that are copyright-encumbered, or which you do not have rights to post, email the documents themselves to Please see the Milestone Program Guidelines for more information.

Please email a jpeg or PDF a letter in English, or with English translation, from the site owner(s) giving permission to place IEEE milestone plaque on the property, and a letter (or forwarded email) from the appropriate Section Chair supporting the Milestone application to with the subject line "Attention: Milestone Administrator." Note that there are multiple texts of the letter depending on whether an IEEE organizational unit other than the section will be paying for the plaque(s).

Please recommend reviewers by emailing their names and email addresses to Please include the docket number and brief title of your proposal in the subject line of all emails.