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Tag: Story

Weekend Video: Logorama

Enjoy the Academy Award winning short animation film “Logorama” this weekend. The film uses more than 2500 logos and mascots to build up the whole story which includes McDonald’s clown and Michelin mascots as the main characters. Have a nice weekend!!

2 Comments May 22, 2010

Celebrating 50 Years of Lasers:The First Laser

The first laser

Article By: Charles H. Townes

Excerpt from A Century of Nature: Twenty-One Discoveries that Changed Science and the World: Editors Laura Garwin and Tim Lincoln (Reprinted under fair-use provisions of US copyright law. ©2003 by The University of Chicago Press)

When the first working laser was reported in 1960, it was described as “a solution looking for a problem.” But before long the laser’s distinctive qualities—its ability to generate an intense, very narrow beam of light of a single wavelength—were being harnessed for science, technology and medicine. Today, lasers are everywhere: from research laboratories at the cutting edge of quantum physics to medical clinics, supermarket checkouts and the telephone network.

Theodore Maiman made the first laser operate on 16 May 1960 at the Hughes Research Laboratory in California, by shining a high-power flash lamp on a ruby rod with silver-coated surfaces. He promptly submitted a short report of the work to the journal Physical Review Letters, but the editors turned it down. Some have thought this was because the Physical Review had announced that it was receiving too many papers on masers—the longer-wavelength predecessors of the laser—and had announced that any further papers would be turned down. But Simon Pasternack, who was an editor of Physical Review Letters at the time, has said that he turned down this historic paper because Maiman had just published, in June 1960, an article on the excitation of ruby with light, with an examination of the relaxation times between quantum states, and that the new work seemed to be simply more of the same. Pasternack’s reaction perhaps reflects the limited understanding at the time of the nature of lasers and their significance. Eager to get his work quickly into publication, Maiman then turned to Nature, usually even more selective than Physical Review Letters, where the paper was better received and published on 6 August.

With official publication of Maiman’s first laser under way, the Hughes Research Laboratory made the first public announcement to the news media on 7 July 1960. This created quite a stir, with front-page newspaper discussions of possible death rays, but also some skepticism among scientists, who were not yet able to see the careful and logically complete Nature paper. Another source of doubt came from the fact that Maiman did not report having seen a bright beam of light, which was the expected characteristic of a laser. I myself asked several of the Hughes group whether they had seen a bright beam, which surprisingly they had not. Maiman’s experiment was not set up to allow a simple beam to come out of it, but he analyzed the spectrum of light emitted and found a marked narrowing of the range of frequencies that it contained. This was just what had been predicted by the theoretical paper on optical masers (or lasers) by Art Schawlow and myself, and had been seen in the masers that produced the longer-wavelength microwave radiation. This evidence, presented in figure 2 of Maiman’s Nature paper, was definite proof of laser action. Shortly afterward, both in Maiman’s laboratory at Hughes and in Schawlow’s at Bell Laboratories in New Jersey, bright red spots from ruby laser beams hitting the laboratory wall were seen and admired.

Maiman’s laser had several aspects not considered in our theoretical paper, nor discussed by others before the ruby demonstration. First, Maiman used a pulsed light source, lasting only a few milliseconds, to excite (or “pump”) the ruby. The laser thus produced only a short flash of light rather than a continuous wave, but because substantial energy was released during a short time, it provided much more power than had been envisaged in most of the earlier discussions. Before long, a technique known as “Q switching” was introduced at the Hughes Laboratory, shortening the pulse of laser light still further and increasing the instantaneous power to millions of watts and beyond. Lasers now have powers as high as a million billion (10 to power 15) watts! The high intensity of pulsed laser light allowed a wide range of new types of experiment, and launched the now-burgeoning field of nonlinear optics. Nonlinear interactions between light and matter allow the frequency of light to be doubled or tripled, so for example an intense red laser can be used to produce green light.

I had a busy job in Washington at the time when various groups were trying to make the earliest lasers. But I was also supervising graduate students at Columbia University who were trying to make continuously pumped infrared lasers. Shortly after the ruby laser came out I advised them to stop this work and instead capitalize on the power of the new ruby laser to do an experiment on two-photon excitation of atoms. This was one of the early experiments in nonlinear optics, and two-photon excitation is now widely used to study atoms and molecules.

Lasers work by adding energy to atoms or molecules, so that there are more in a high-energy (“excited”) state than in some lower-energy state; this is known as a “population inversion.” When this occurs, light waves passing through the material stimulate more radiation from the excited states than they lose by absorption due to atoms or molecules in the lower state. This “stimulated emission” is the basis of masers (whose name stands for “microwave amplification by stimulated emission of radiation”) and lasers (the same, but for light instead of microwaves).

Before Maiman’s paper, ruby had been widely used for masers, which produce waves at microwave frequencies, and had also been considered for lasers producing infrared or visible light waves. But the second surprising feature of Maiman’s laser, in addition to the pulsed source, was that he was able to empty the lowest-energy (“ground”) state of ruby enough so that stimulated emission could occur from an excited to the ground state. This was unexpected. In fact, Schawlow, who had worked on ruby, had publicly commented that transitions involving the ground state of ruby would not be suitable for lasers because it would be difficult to empty adequately. He recommended a different transition in ruby, which was indeed made to work, but only after Maiman’s success. Maiman, who had been carefully studying the relaxation times of excited states of ruby, came to the conclusion that the ground state might be sufficiently emptied by a flash lamp to provide laser action—and it worked.

The ruby laser was used in many early spectacular experiments. One amusing one, in 1969, sent a light beam to the Moon, where it was reflected back from a retro-reflector placed on the Moon’s surface by astronauts in the U.S. Apollo program. The round-trip travel time of the pulse provided a measurement of the distance to the Moon. Later, ruby laser beams sent out and received by telescopes measured distances to the Moon with a precision of about three centimeters—a great use of the ruby laser’s short pulses.

When the first laser appeared, scientists and engineers were not really prepared for it. Many people said to me—partly as a joke but also as a challenge—that the laser was “a solution looking for a problem.” But by bringing together optics and electronics, lasers opened up vast new fields of science and technology. And many different laser types and applications came along quite soon. At IBM’s research laboratories in Yorktown Heights, New York, Peter Sorokin and Mirek Stevenson demonstrated two lasers that used techniques similar to Maiman’s but with calcium fluoride, instead of ruby, as the lasing substance. Following that—and still in 1960—was the very important helium-neon laser of Ali Javan, William Bennett, and Donald Herriott at Bell Laboratories. This produced continuous radiation at low power but with a very pure frequency and the narrowest possible beam. Then came semiconductor lasers, first made to operate in 1962 by Robert Hall and his associates at the General Electric laboratories in Schenectady, New York. Semiconductor lasers now involve many different materials and forms, can be quite small and inexpensive, and are by far the most common type of laser. They are used, for example, in supermarket bar-code readers, in optical-fiber communications, and in laser pointers.

By now, lasers come in countless varieties. They include the “edible” laser, made as a joke by Schawlow out of flavored gelatin (but not in fact eaten because of the dye that was used to color it), and its companion the “drinkable” laser, made of an alcoholic mixture at Eastman Kodak’s laboratories in Rochester, New York. Natural lasers have now been found in astronomical objects; for example, infrared light is amplified by carbon dioxide in the atmospheres of Mars and Venus, excited by solar radiation, and intense radiation from stars stimulates laser action in hydrogen atoms in circumstellar gas clouds. This raises the question: why weren’t lasers invented long ago, perhaps by 1930 when all the necessary physics was already understood, at least by some people? What other important phenomena are we blindly missing today?

Maiman’s paper is so short, and has so many powerful ramifications, that I believe it might be considered the most important per word of any of the wonderful papers in Nature over the past century. Lasers today produce much higher power densities than were previously possible, more precise measurements of distances, gentle ways of picking up and moving small objects such as individual microorganisms, the lowest temperatures ever achieved, new kinds of electronics and optics, and many billions of dollars worth of new industries. The U.S. National Academy of Engineering has chosen the combination of lasers and fiber optics—which has revolutionized communications—as one of the twenty most important engineering developments of the twentieth century. Personally, I am particularly pleased with lasers as invaluable medical tools (for example, in laser eye surgery), and as scientific instruments—I use them now to make observations in astronomy. And there are already at least ten Nobel Prize winners whose work was made possible by lasers.

There have been great and good developments since Ted Maiman, probably a bit desperately, mailed off a short paper on what was then a somewhat obscure subject, hoping to get it published quickly in Nature. Fortunately, Nature’s editors accepted it, and the rest is history.

Copyright notice: Excerpted from pages 107-12 of A Century of Nature: Twenty-One Discoveries that Changed Science and the World edited by Laura Garwin and Tim Lincoln, published by the University of Chicago Press. ©2003 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that this entire notice, including copyright information, is carried and provided that the University of Chicago Press is notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent of the University of Chicago Press and of the author.

Leave a Comment May 19, 2010

Greek Crisis Explained

Here is a nice animation explaining the Greek Crisis. It’s funny and probably this two-minute animation explains much better what the heck is wrong with Greece than all those lengthy and wordy analysis. Will be eagerly waiting for the next episode in the series: Will the EU make it? Infact the whole world awaits for the answer…

Nice job Nomint!

Leave a Comment May 12, 2010


Here is a very cute, real-life interview between a 12 -year old Joshua Littman, who has Asperger Syndrome, and his mother Sarah. You will enjoy this beautiful Mother-Son conversation. This conversation is a part of the movement called StoryCorps with a simple idea of sharing and recording life-stories of everyday people; basically a conversation between two people who are important to each other and preserve these stories for everyone to listen. Till now about 50,000 such stories have been recorded and is weekly broadcast on NPR’s Morning Edition. Some of these stories will be made into animations and will be broadcast as a documentary on PBS during Aug-Sep 2010. The above Q&A is one of those animated stories. Here is synopsis by PBS about this animation as well us upcoming documentary:


The groundbreaking public radio project StoryCorps will enter into the world of television for the first time with a series of animated shorts that will air on POV later this summer. Q&A is a three-minute film featuring the audio recording of Joshua Littman, a 12-year-old boy with Asperger’s syndrome, interviewing his mother, Sarah. Joshua’s unique questions and Sarah’s loving, unguarded answers reveal a beautiful relationship that reminds us of the best — and the most challenging — parts of being a mother. (4 minutes)

Millions of Americans currently listen to StoryCorps award-winning radio broadcasts on NPR’s Morning Edition. By pairing the voices and stories from its radio segments with imaginative new animations, StoryCorps will produce six of its most beloved stories to follow long-form POV documentaries in August and September. Q&A will be broadcast after The Edge of Dreaming.

1 Comment May 6, 2010

Meet The Green Nobel Prize Winners

“It is not enough to be compassionate. You must act” said Dalai Lama and there are few ordinary people who follow this maxim and take actions on issues they feel passionate about. Goldman Environmental prize or alternatively called “Green Nobel Prize” recognizes efforts of such grass root level activist who follow their passion to save the environment. These are ordinary peoples who do extraordinary works and their efforts need to be applauded and supported by all of us and April 22nd being the Earth Day, this is the perfect time to salute these real life heroes. Goldman prizes were first given in 1990 and previous recipients include Medha Patkar from India and Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai from Kenya.  Each year Goldman prize is given to six environmentalist from six different geographical areas. This year the award was given on April 19th to following grass-root level environmentalist:

Tuy Sereivathana: He is affectionately called “Uncle Elephant” back in Cambodia where he is a peacemaker between the wild elephants and poor villagers who were forced to kill the wild elephants who destroyed their farms in order to save their crops. The elephant population has been dwindling (currently 400 in Cambodia) and to rescue came Tuy Sereivathana who taught villagers how to save their farms from elephants without killing them and thus conserving the endangered species.

Humberto Rios Labrada: He is a singing scientist and also called “seed man” of Cuba who promotes seed diversity in farming along with low-input farming methods so that to reduce extensive use of chemicals and thereby making food chemical free and agriculture more sustainable.

Lynn Henning: She tracks pollution from large farms, known as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). She exposed the egregious polluting practices of livestock factory farms in rural Michigan, gaining the attention of the federal EPA and prompting state regulators to issue hundreds of citations for water quality violations.

Malgorzata Gorska: She continued her struggle for eight years and ultimately was successful in changing the route of highway project Via Baltica between Warsaw and Helsinki in Poland which otherwise would have resulted in large scale destruction of natural landscape and ecosystem in the area which is one of the last wilderness areas left in Europe.

Thuli Brilliance Makama: After a grueling three-year legal battle, Swaziland’s only public interest environmental attorney, Thuli Brilliance Makama, won a landmark case to include environmental NGO representation in the Swaziland Environment Authority, reinforcing the right to public participation in environmental decision making.

Randall Arauz: Drawing international attention to the inhumane and environmentally catastrophic shark finning industry, Randall Arauz led the campaign to halt the practice in Costa Rica, making his country the international model for shark protection.

You can  watch this playlist showcasing their stories and work:

Source: Goldman Environmental Prize

Randall Arauz

Leave a Comment April 20, 2010

Grandma and the Baby

Amazing artwork by Chase. Loved the expressions: sense of satisfaction on grandma’s  face and curiosity on baby’s face looking at the blue earth from the spaceship. In fact, it reminded me of one of my own experiences during one of my India trips. I was traveling from Atlanta to Mumbai via Amsterdam and my co-passengers in my neighboring seats were a two-three year old girl with her father on one side and an old lady (in her 80s) on the other side. The old lady had not traveled much but now she wanted to travel and wanted to see all her friends all over the world and she loved to talk. While the baby girl was very restless and her father read to her all the story books possible, played along with her various dolls during the 8-hour flight to Amsterdam. In the morning when the sun was shining in between the clouds, it was an amazing scene and both the baby and the old lady watched the sunrise through the window with a similar expression as depicted in this pic. The old lady was so happy to see the beautiful sunrise and said that if not she would have decided to travel, probably she would have missed this moment in her lifetime, while the baby girl after watching the sunrise with curiosity and calmness, went back to her restless ways.

Leave a Comment March 30, 2010

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Born on this day

October 21, 2020
1833 Alfred Nobel
1868 Sir Ernest Dunlop Swinton
1926 Leonard Rossiter
1940 Manfred Mann
1940 Geoff Boycott
1940 Natalia Makarova
1942 Sir John Stevens
1954 Eric Faulkner
1956 Carrie Fisher
1962 David Campese
1966 Bjork
1971 Jade Jagger