Home-made Laser

The term “home-made laser” almost seems a contradiction but that is not the case. This gas laser was built by high school student Stephen M. Fry in 1964, only four years after Ali Javan made the first gas laser at Bell Labs. Fry followed plans published in Scientific American's "The Amateur Scientist" column in September 1964, (page 227).
The glass tube is filled with helium and neon and, as the magazine reported, "seems to consist merely of a gas-discharge tube that looks much like the letter 'I' in a neon sign; at the ends of the tube are flat windows that face a pair of small mirrors. Yet when power is applied, the device emits as many as six separate beams of intense light."
The discharge tube is the only piece of this particular laser that remains. The flat windows (called "Brewster windows") are square instead of round, and the electrodes are parallel to the gas tube instead of perpendicular. Otherwise it resembles the drawings in the magazine. Fry later earned a Ph.D. in physics with a dissertation on lasers.
Currently not on view
Object Name
tube, laser
Date made
date ordered, given, or borrowed
Fry, Stephen M.
Physical Description
glass (overall material)
metal (electrodes material)
overall: 2 cm x 45 cm x 6.3 cm; 13/16 in x 17 11/16 in x 2 1/2 in
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 Stephen M. Fry
Stong, C. L.. How a perservering anateur can build a gas laser in the home

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