Bedford scientist a laser pioneer
Four decades ago, superpower scientists were in a frenzied race to perfect the laser. The invention had been around since 1960, but the first lasers produced weak beams, and many scientists derided the laser as a solution looking for a problem, recalled J. Gary Eden, a professor of engineering at the University of Illinois and editor-in-chief of Progress in Quantum Electronics.
Theoretically at least, a strong laser would be used to fuse atoms, creating a nearly limitless source of power that would mimic the way the sun creates energy.
Edward Teller, the father of the hydrogen bomb, tasked MIT-trained physicist Paul Hoff with making a laser worthy of its hype.
Earlier this year, Hoff was recognized in Washington for his work, during an event following last year's 40-year anniversary of the excimer laser's creation.
If you use a cell phone, Eden said, you're using chip circuitry patterned by excimer lasers.
Hoff and much of the scientific community knew that the rare gas xenon was the answer to a stronger laser. The challenge was the nature of the element. The xenon atom is a loner; it won't bond to other atoms, even other xenon atoms.
Next up were halide lasers, created by rare gas excimers and halogens such as chlorine and fluorine. By 1975, scientists at IBM realized that halide lasers could cut patterns in plastic, giving birth to the shrinking of the computer chip.
In 1978, Soviet physicist and Nobel laureate Nikolay Basov presented Hoff with the Order of Lenin, an award the USSR usually reserved for its own scientists. The following year, Hoff left government work for New Hampshire and Sanders Associates, now part of BAE Systems. He married Selma Naccach, the current chairman of the English Department at Manchester High School Central.
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