Ruby Crystal from Maiman Laser

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This is a ruby crystal from Theodore Maiman's experiments of May 1960, and may be the first crystal to generate laser light. The synthetic crystal was mounted in a small holder that also contained a spiral flashlamp of the type photographers used. When the lamp flashed, the light pulse stimulated the atoms within the crystal. The atoms released that energy in the form of a laser light pulse.
Maiman earned a Ph.D. in physics from Stanford in 1955 and went to work at Hughes Research Laboratories the following year where he worked on masers. After attending a conference in September 1959, Maiman ran experiments investigating the possibility that a ruby crystal might be capable of emitting laser light. The experiments proved successful when, on 16 May 1960, he and assistant Irnee D’Haenes demonstrated the first operating laser. Rather than producing a continuous beam, their ruby laser operated in pulses. Their success caught the scientific community by surprise and was a pivotal moment in the history of lasers.
This crystal was one of several in the laboratory at the time of the experiments. No one knows with certainly which crystal actually generated the first laser light, though when the crystal was donated to the Smithsonian in 1967, officials at Hughes reported that this crystal was indeed the first.
Currently not on view
Date made
associated date
associated institution
Hughes Research Laboratories
Maiman, Theodore H.
Hughes Aircraft Company
Physical Description
ruby (crystal material)
steel (holder material)
overall: 2 in x 3/8 in; 5.08 cm x .9525 cm
crystal only: 11/16 in x 3/8 in; 1.74625 cm x .9525 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
from Hughes Aircraft Company, thru Dr. George F. Smith
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Work and Industry: Electricity
Science & Mathematics
Energy & Power
Data Source
National Museum of American History