On May 16, 1960, physicist Theodore Maiman, working at Hughes Research Labs in Malibu, Calif., shined a light on a synthetic ruby crystal, making the first functional LASER (Light Amplification by Stimulated emission of Radiation). Following a July 7, 1960 announcement to the news media, there was front-page speculation about the possible applications of lasers, including “death rays.”
While Maiman’s findings, published in Nature, had no hints at death rays, last year, Northrup Grumman announced a weapons-grade laser beam.
Lasers now have a variety of everyday applications, including CDs, DVDs, and surgery.
Source: A Century of Nature: 21 discoveries that changed science and the world, 2003 University of Chicago Press