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History of Lasers

The theoretic principles behind the laser were developed as early as 1917, when Einstein laid the groundwork for stimulated emission in his treatise "On the Quantum Theory of Radiation." In 1955, Gordon produced the maser, the microwave predecessor of the laser. In 1958, Schwalow & Townes of Bell Laboratories described the physical operating principles of the laser, which Maiman applied in 1960 to produce the first operating laser—a red beam generated by the excitation of a ruby crystal with intense pulses of light from a flash lamp.

The ruby laser became the first medical laser, was used in 1963 to coagulate retinal lesions.

Other substances were ultimately found that could serve as the active medium of a laser device. Many substrates, especially rare earth elements such as erbium (Er), gadolinium (Gd), holmium (Ho), praseodymium (Pr), thulium (Tm), uranium (Ur), and ytterbium (Yb), have been used successfully.


In 1961, a laser generated from crystals of yttrium-aluminum-garnet treated with 1-3% neodymium (Nd:YAG) was developed. This laser emitted energy in the near infrared (NIR) spectrum at a wavelength of 1060 nm. Researchers found its high-penetration emission to be useful for vaporizing tissues and thermally coagulating large blood vessels (< 3 mm). Today, the Nd:YAG laser is mainly used to ablate tattoos and tumours of the genitourinary and gastrointestinal tracts, although it has many other uses, including ophthalmic surgery and hair removal.

The first gas laser, which was also developed in 1961, used a mixture of helium and neon. Although its beam was not powerful enough to trigger a thermal reaction, its red colour allowed it to be used as an aiming beam for invisible lasers such as the carbon dioxide (CO2) laser. Currently it’s used as a bio-stimulator to relieve pain and accelerate wound healing.

In 1962, the argon laser was developed. It emitted energy in the blue-green portion of the spectrum. Energy with wavelengths in this part of the spectrum is more readily absorbed by 2 naturally occurring chromophores in the human body: melanin and haemoglobin, than by the surrounding tissue. The argon laser is used to photocoagulate (i.e. thermally obliterate without vaporization) blood vessels in the treatment of diabetic retinopathy & port-wine stains.

In 1964, Patel at Bell Laboratories developed the CO2 laser. It emitted spectral energy in the far IR portion of the electromagnetic spectrum at 10,600 nm. At this wavelength, energy is heavily absorbed by water, which is the primary constituent of cells in living tissue. Thus, the energy generated by this laser can be used for cutting or volume ablation by means of tissue vaporization. This unique characteristic makes the CO2 laser the most widely used medical laser today.


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