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The laser: a solution looking for problems?

This is just the sort of thing Theodore Maiman said he had in mind when was interviewed 50 years ago, after being the first to successfully demonstrate the laser: medical procedures that would change or even save lives in ways as yet unimagined.

This time, the laser has been used to perform surgery on an unborn fetus.

Surgeons at the University of Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital reported they have performed the first-ever in utero surgery on a fetus. A rare tumor diagnosed about halfway through the pregnancy via ultrasound was removed from the roof of the mouth using laesr technology. A few months later, the baby was born at full-term and healthy.

Never mind that one newspaper at the time called Maiman’s pioneering ruby laser “a solution in search of a problem.” Applications have been developed in nearly every facet of life, and the list of medical solutions that lasers provide is impressive.

Starting from the beginning, medical applications of lasers were life-enhancing -- removing a birthmark known as port-wine stain -- as well as life-saving -- treating skin cancer. Eye surgery was another early application, as IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center's James Wynne told SPIE.tv in a recent video.

Today lasers are used widely in several medical fields:
  • dermatology: removing tattoos and hair as well as life-threatening tumors
  • ophthalmology: restoring vision by repairing the lens, reattaching a damaged retina or creating a prosthetic retina
  • oncology: treating cancer through photodynamic therap, and diagnosing tumors are earlier and earlier stages for better patient recovery results
  • surgery, dentistry, veterinary medicine and numerous other therapeutic as well as diagnostic applications.

… not to mention wide-ranging nonmedical applications:
  • laser guide stars for astronomical observations
  • lasers for manufacturing everything from smartphones to lumber
  • fiber optic laser systems for broadcasting the internet
  • smart-car technology to detect people or objects behind the vehicle, nondestructive testing of bridges, laser light shows … and much more.

What will the laser do next? Plenty! For example, lasers are enabling new personalized medicine regimens with treatments tailored to an individual’s particular genomes, and hold promise to provide abundant clean energy through the process of fusion.

Hear first-hand from more than three dozen laser experts about what the laser can do and what’s next in a series of videos celebrating the recent 50th anniversary of technology -- and hear from Miles Padgett (University of Glasgow) about the latest in optical tweezers for manipulating light and John Dudley (Univ. de Franche-Comté, CNRS Institut FEMTO-ST) on new directions in nonlinear optics, in ongoing video coverage on SPIE.tv.

Ted Maiman was among visionaries honored in a tribute display shown during the 2010 observance of the 50th anniversary of laser technology. Photo: Theodore Harold Maiman - © Bettmann/CORBIS.

Comments

  1. I need to know the properties of the Gaussian Beam (specially mode radius) inside a Z shaped optical resonator in which the first and fourth mirrors are planar while the second and third mirrors are curved.

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