Theodore Maiman, American engineer and physicist, Died at 79

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Theodore Harold “Ted” Maiman died on May 5, 2007 at the age of 79, he was an American engineer and physicist credited with the invention of the first working laser.

Born in Los Angeles, California, to Abraham “Abe” Maiman, an electrical engineer and inventor, and Rose Abramson, at a young age his family moved to Denver, Colorado, where he helped his father with experimentation in a home electronics laboratory.

In his teens Maiman earned money by repairing electrical appliances and radios, and after leaving high school was employed as a junior engineer with the National Union Radio Company at age 17.

In 1956 Maiman started work with the Atomic Physics Department of the Hughes Aircraft Company (later Hughes Research Laboratories or HRL Laboratories) in California where he led the ruby maser redesign project for the U.S. Army Signal Corps, reducing it from a 2.5-ton cryogenic device to 4 pounds while improving its performance.

As a result of this success Maiman persuaded Hughes management to use company funds to support his laser project beginning in mid-1959.

On a total budget of $50,000, Maiman turned to the development of a laser based on his own design with a synthetic ruby crystal, which other scientists seeking to make a laser felt would not work.

Following his invention of the laser, in 1961 Maiman and seven colleagues departed Hughes to join the newly formed Quantatron Company, which grew in-house ruby crystals for lasers.

In 1962 Maiman founded and became the president of the Korad Corporation, which manufactured high-power ruby lasers.

After Korad was fully acquired by Union Carbide in 1968, Maiman left to found Maiman Associates, a venture capital firm.

In 1971 Maiman founded the Laser Video Corporation, and from 1976 to 1983 he worked as vice president for advanced technology at TRW Electronics (now Northrup Grumman).

He later served as consultant to Laser Centers of America, Inc. (now LCA-Vision Inc.) and director of Control Laser Corporation.

Maiman continued his involvement in laser developments and applications.

In 1999 he moved to Vancouver with his wife Kathleen, and three years later he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Simon Fraser University.

In 2000, Maiman completed a memoir entitled “The Laser Odyssey”, outlining the years and months leading up to the completion of the first laser, and his later achievements.

Before his death on May 5th, 2007, he was active in the development of the optical engineering and biophotonics curriculum at SFU’s School of Engineering Science.

Maiman is indexed in Encyclopaedia Britannica, Americana Colliers, World Book, the New York Times Encyclopaedia Almanac, and the Oxford Encyclopaedia Almanac.

His work is included in the Smithsonian Institute and the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Throughout his career, Maiman received many awards.

He was twice nominated for the Nobel Prize and was given membership in both National Academies of Science and Engineers.