Robert Byer is the first-ever recipient of a new laser technology award

Robert Byer developed the first visible, tunable red laser by routing a green laser through a nonlinear crystal. (Image credit: Misha Bruk)

SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, has created a new annual award – the SPIE Maiman Laser Award – to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the laser’s invention. The educational nonprofit has named ROBERT BYER, the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences, as the award’s first recipient.

The award is named for Theodore Harold Maiman, who demonstrated the world’s first working laser in 1960, and recognizes those who have made sustained contributions to laser source science and technology. Byer, who has been teaching classes in lasers and nonlinear optics at Stanford since 1969 and is also a professor of photon science at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, is receiving the honor for his work in diode-pumped solid-state lasers and nonlinear optical sources. 

“The demonstration of the first laser by Ted Maiman 60 years ago in the Hughes Research Laboratory, located above Malibu Beach, opened the door to the laser and all of its applications from communications to the detection of gravitational waves,” said Byer. “I am thrilled to be selected as the inaugural recipient of the SPIE Maiman Laser Award.” 

Byer holds more than 50 laser patents; his personal favorite is one for a green laser pointer, which stemmed directly from a student question. Aside from mainstream use as a lecture pointer, that invention is also an effective pointer for astronomy, a rescue flare for sailors and a laser for color television.