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NIST's Role in Laser Measurements and Applications

Researcher Kris Helmerson observes a tiny glowing cloud of sodium atoms caught by six intersecting laser beams in a vacuum chamber.

In a photo taken in the late 1980s, researcher Kris Helmerson observes a tiny glowing cloud of sodium atoms caught by six intersecting laser beams in a vacuum chamber. At that time, Helmerson was a member of Bill Phillips's research group at NIST. Phillips shared the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1997 for laser cooling and trapping techniques developed in this lab. Such techniques produce the coldest temperatures in the universe and are critical for ultra accurate atomic clocks.

Credit: H. Mark Helfer/NIST

Based on ideas developed by many scientists, the first working laser was demonstrated by Theodore Maiman at Hughes Research Labs in 1960.

Since that time, researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have helped turn lasers into tools that have redefined the measurement system, enabled the development of new technologies, enhanced understanding of science, and touched the lives of all Americans.

Three NIST scientists have won Nobel Prizes for their work with lasers.

Created June 1, 2010, Updated April 7, 2017