Wave guide with ruby crystal

This is an experimental device made by Theodore Maiman at Hughes Aircraft in late 1959 or early 1960 as part of the series of experiments leading up to the demonstration of the first laser in May 1960. This object features a cube-shaped ruby crystal mounted at one end of a microwave wave-guide. Maiman sought to test the response of the synthetic ruby crystal to microwave stimulation. Other researchers claimed that ruby would be a poor material to use in a laser. Maiman thought otherwise.
After Charles Townes invented the microwave-emitting maser in 1954, researchers began trying to move to the higher energy levels of infrared and visible light. They referred to such devices as "optical masers," and only later did people adopt Gordon Gould's term, "laser." This experimental piece clearly shows the influence of microwave technology. The metal tube is not a stand but rather a hollow guide that channels microwaves to the ruby crystal. The results of this and other experiments led Maiman to ultimately choose a cylinder of ruby rather than a cube for his laser.
Currently not on view
Object Name
wave guide
laser apparatus
date made
associated date
associated user
associated institution
Hughes Research Laboratories
Maiman, Theodore H.
Hughes Aircraft Company
Physical Description
ruby (crystal material)
metal (overall material)
overall: 8 in x 1 3/4 in x 1 3/4 in; 20.32 cm x 4.445 cm x 4.445 cm
crystal only: 3/8 in x 3/8 in x 3/8 in; .9525 cm x .9525 cm x .9525 cm
Place Made
United States: California, Malibu
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Energy & Power
Science & Mathematics
See more items in
Work and Industry: Electricity
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
from Hughes Aircraft Company, thru Dr. George F. Smith
Additional Media

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