Milestones:The First Optical Fiber Laser and Amplifier
First Optical Fiber Laser and Amplifier
Street address(es) and GPS coordinates of the Milestone Plaque Sites
42.035296, -71.9533102, Town Common Southbridge Massachusetts
Details of the physical location of the plaque
How the intended plaque site is protected/secured
The site is open to the public.
Historical significance of the work
Elias Snitzer and colleagues developed the first working optical fiber laser and amplifier in 1963 at American Optical, drawing on his earlier work in optical fibers and his demonstration of the first solid-state laser made of glass in 1961. His ground-breaking combination of two young technologies, published in Applied Optics in 1964, was many years ahead of its time. The advent of optical fiber amplifiers was vital in building the high-speed backbone of the global telecommunications network, which carries our words, pictures and data around the planet. More recently, fiber lasers have become powerful tools in manufacturing, generating multikilowatt beams that can cut and weld materials from plastics to metals.
Features that set this work apart from similar achievements
Other early solid-state lasers, such as the ruby laser demonstrated by Theodore Maiman in 1960, another IEEE Milestone, were made of bulk materials. The fiber laser uniquely transmitted the light it generated along a light-guiding core, concentrating its energy in a small area inside the glass, and making it easy to transfer light from a fiber laser into a passive optical fiber for transmission. This became important when fiber-optic communications emerged in the 1970s, because optical signals needed to be amplified after passing through tens of kilometers of glass. Initially that required converting the signals into electronic form for amplification, but building upon Snitzer's work, David Payne and others developed optical fiber amplifiers that could directly boost signal strength across a wide range of wavelengths, allowing high-speed transmission across continents and under oceans. That technology is today the backbone of the global telecommunication technology. Fiber lasers also have proved exceptionally well suited for efficiently generating high-quality beams with powers reaching many kilowatts in strength, greatly expanding the applications of lasers in cutting, welding and other machining of materials from plastics to metals.