Forecasting The Future And Lasers

Interesting article in The Observer on how difficult it is to make guesses for science areas that are likely to lead to high impact commercial success:

IF YOU’RE planning watch a DVD today, listen to a CD, play a computer game, go to a supermarket, browse the web, or do 100 other everyday tasks, spare a thought for the invention that has shaped our lives and revolutionised our manufacturing industries: the laser.

The name is an acronym for Light Amplification from the Stimulated Emission of Radiation.

The reason we’re celebrating the laser this year is that 50 years ago Theodore Maiman, a researcher at the Hughes Research Labs, built the first one, using a ruby crystal to produce a beam of red light.

Lasers are thus a critical part of our technological infrastructure, yet no one involved in the research that led to them had any inkling of what their investigations would produce. The original idea goes back to a paper Albert Einstein published in 1917 on “The Quantum Theory of Radiation” about the absorption, spontaneous emission and stimulated emission of electromagnetic radiation. For 40 years, stimulated emission was of absorbing interest to quantum physicists, but of little interest to anyone else – certainly to nobody in government.

Which brings us to Lord Mandelson, now in charge of all government funding of universities and academic research. He has no personal experience of research in science or technology, but, like many people whose minds are unclouded by knowledge, has strong views on these matters.

They are working on a “Research Excellence Framework” which will require applicants for funding to cite “demonstrable benefits to the economy, society, public policy, culture and quality of life”. This bodes ill for any scientist or engineer interested in curiosity-driven research.

I’ve made related comments here and here.

Update: On reflection I changed the title and url of this post to the current one from the original ‘Predicting The Future With Lasers’. This may have caused unintended confusion or irritation – many apologies! See also comment below.

Picture credit here.


  1. If you change your post’s title after posting it (from Predicting … to Forecasting …) – and change your URL also then this busts all the pointers to it from Twitter and other sites 🙂

    Best wishes David

    1. David Pottinger says:

      Hi David,
      Yes, I found that out! I was thinking of changing it back (and maybe making things worse?) but in the end hoped that at least getting to the blog itself, readers might find the modified title from the home page or sidebar. Anyway, I certainly won’t do that again, and apologies! On a more positive note, many thanks for the recent links 🙂

  2. Reblogged this on My Blog Divonsir Borges and commented:
    Um do constituintes na confecção do raio laser, fez muitos aparelhos chegando a 30% das conclusões.!.

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