Robert L. Byer, whose laser technology discoveries have been used in many commercial applications, is being honored by IEEE with the 2009 IEEE Photonics Award.
The award, sponsored by IEEE's Photonics Society, recognizes Byer for seminal contributions to nonlinear optics and solid-state lasers for commercial applications from precision measurement to manufacturing. The award will be presented on June 3 at the 2009 Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics in Baltimore, MD.
Byer has been working with lasers since 1969 with research centered on advanced lasers and frequency tuning of lasers using nonlinear optics. Byer's work helped define nonlinear optics, which involves the ability to change ethe color of a laserto a continuously tunable range of colors. This technology is being developed today for use in laser projection displays and for future high-brightness television. This technology has also led to ultraviolet solid-state lasers that are needed for drilling tiny holes in circuit boards of electronic components that make cellular phones and MP3 players possible.
In 1985, Byer's grouop developed the laser diode pumped monolithic ring Nd:YAG laser, which is known as the nonplanar ring oscillator. This lasers is the standard for laser frequency control and is used for satellite-to-satellite communications and for sensitive sonar applications in submarines. It is also used for precision distance measurements that search for weak gravitational waves generated by black holes and neuron stars across the universe.
The combination of nonlinear optics and the laser diode pumping of Byer's Nd:YAG laser let to the development of the green laser pointer in 1986. It is not used just for presentations, but for pointing to planets or stars in the night sky and as rescue beacons for sailors at sea.