In 1960, the first working laser was demonstrated, and promptly dubbed “a solution looking for a problem.” In the ensuing fifty years, lasers have found lots of problems to solve, but there has been no consensus about which of the many amazing applications of lasers is the most amazing.

Now, in 2010, as we celebrate the anniversary of the laser, we finally have the technology to definitively answer the question: radio-button polls on the Internet!

Each of the choices above links to a post I wrote here giving you the basic information about that application (I’ll reproduce the list below), so you can make an informed decision as to what the most amazing application of the laser is. Voting will remain open until next Sunday, May 2, with the ultimate winner announced on Monday, May 3rd. Whereupon everybody will have to acknowledge the winning application as the Most Amazing Laser Application of All Time. Because, you know, that’s how these things work.

So get reading, and get voting. One vote per computer per user, please– this is Serious Science.

The list of application posts, in chronological order:


  1. #1 Kylinn
    April 23, 2010

    Hey, what about barcode readers, those ubiquitous devices seen in almost every retail store nowadays? Besides allowing customer to check out their own groceries, consider how cool it is to be able to do inventory with a wave of a wand instead of slogging through it item by item? Heaven!

  2. #2 Jonathan Vos Post
    April 23, 2010

    I wrote another chapter in my latest Hard SF novel about quantum combs, but what happened to laser propulsion? I wish I’d gotten it in writing (and not just Project Manager Jordan Kare) that Edward Teller praised my equations on propellant mixed with chopped up IR fibers so as to optimize the thermal gradient in the block of solid hit by the ground-based humongous laser, ablating the propellant, and rocketing the payload into orbit or beyond. P^3. Propellant, Payload, Period.

  3. #3 Kylinn
    April 23, 2010

    Argh, and libraries! Mustn’t forget how important barcoding of books has become for library inventory and control.

  4. #4 Rob Knop
    April 23, 2010

    What about “putting on the heads of sharks as a means of execution”, huh?

  5. #5 travc
    April 23, 2010

    Voting for “most amazing” is difficult. Optical tweezers, quantum combs, and BEC are all pretty mind-boggling. I’ll go with BEC because it is so counter-intuitive at first glance.

    A separate poll of most “significant” application might be neat.

  6. #6 Colin
    April 24, 2010
  7. #7 CCPhysicist
    April 26, 2010

    It was a tossup between BEC and tweezers, mainly because so many of the others were ideas that were already being popularized (if not realized) in my youth. But playing with individual atoms and/or manipulating them into a macroscopic quantum state?

    Remember, atoms did not become “real” until about a century ago. Last year was the centennial of the Rutherford experiment, and next year is the centennial of his explanation that led to the Bohr model and a physical basis for chemistry. Quite a jump from that to a BEC.

  8. #8 Pieter Kok
    April 27, 2010

    I was going to vote, but it was too difficult. Can I really put the frequency comb over LIGO?

  9. #9 jim
    April 27, 2010

    After having worked on laser systems for many years, I have to plug my own nickel. Nowhere in the list is LISA. Why ?
    In 1984 myself & colleagues at NASA-Goddard & JPL explored LISA’s predecessor: A Mars Laser, with an orbiting lasing path thru the Martian CO2 atmosphere, sampling at anytime of the day, two active gain regions pumped by the sun.
    The laser beam was calculated to produce several hundred watts of directed, coherent, infrared energy, which would then sweep a narrow band `lighthouse’ beam, once around the solar system per Martian day, and out to the stars.
    No practical application except advancing Dyson-like technology. As fallout, it would be a narrow band beacon, broadcasting Mar’s intelligent civilization, which would stand out amidst the broadband, noisy, IR background like a sore thumb, and hence be easily detectable by ETI.
    Don’t tell Hawking: He is terrified of aliens finding out about Earth. Now he can sleep easier at nite !

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