This one almost didn’t make the list. To folks over 50, the laser is still a really impressive thing. Folks over 35 still remember when reading sound or picture using a laser was cool. But look, if you will, at the world through the eyes of a 21-year-old. Here’s what you use a laser for:
- Removing unwanted hair or tattoos
- Scanning the stuff you want to buy at the checkout
- Redbox, when you can’t find something you want online
- playing with the cat
Yes, there are many other much more scientific uses for a laser, but it’s become such a common thing now that our most common personal use is annoying a pet. That says a lot about how ubiquitous the laser has become.
The first functioning laser went online in 1960 in Malibu, CA thanks to a lot of prior research by a lot of people, and a team led by Theodore Maiman. In the coming years lasers were used for various things from planetarium shows to telecommunications. Lasers were considered a miracle of modern technology for their ability to form completely straight lines (unless their paths were bent by air or some other obstruction.
The laser diode, which is a self-contained laser that can be very small and operate at very low power, was invented in 1962 but it was not until the 1970s that the average person owned a laser. Laser diodes were used to read data encoded on a disc in the first laserdisc players (essentially a 12″ version of a DVD) and from then the “optical revolution” provided lasers a good workout playing music, data and video. In the 1990s the laser was fine-tuned so that it was powerful enough to make a mark on a disc without burning through the disc itself, and so the first CD burners were made. CD burning (and DVD burning) thrived throughout the mid-1990s to mid-2000s as a way to store your stuff and pass your tunes along to others. With the coming of flash drives then cloud storage, the technology is fairly obsolete.
Which brings us once again to the real reason most of us have lasers today…