Milestone-Proposal:First Optical Fiber Laser and Amplifier


Docket #:2012-01

This Proposal has been approved, and is now a Milestone Nomination

This is a draft proposal, that has not yet been submitted. To submit this proposal, click on "Edit with form", check the "Submit this proposal for review" box at the bottom, and save the page.

Is the achievement you are proposing more than 25 years old?

Is the achievement you are proposing within IEEE’s fields of interest? (e.g. “the theory and practice of electrical, electronics, communications and computer engineering, as well as computer science, the allied branches of engineering and the related arts and sciences” – from the IEEE Constitution)

Did the achievement provide a meaningful benefit for humanity?

Was it of at least regional importance?

Has an IEEE Organizational Unit agreed to pay for the milestone plaque(s)?

Has an IEEE Organizational Unit agreed to arrange the dedication ceremony?

Has the IEEE Section in which the milestone is located agreed to take responsibility for the plaque after it is dedicated?

Has the owner of the site agreed to have it designated as an Electrical Engineering Milestone? Yes

Year or range of years in which the achievement occurred:


Title of the proposed milestone:

First Optical Fiber Laser and Amplifier

Plaque citation summarizing the achievement and its significance:

In what IEEE section(s) does it reside?

IEEE Worcester County Section

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) which have agreed to sponsor the Milestone:

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) paying for milestone plaque(s):

Unit: IEEE Photonics Society
Senior Officer Name: Senior officer name masked to public

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) arranging the dedication ceremony:

Unit: IEEE Photonics Society
Senior Officer Name: Senior officer name masked to public

IEEE section(s) monitoring the plaque(s):

IEEE Section: IEEE Photonics Society
IEEE Section Chair name: Section chair name masked to public

Milestone proposer(s):

Proposer name: Proposer's name masked to public
Proposer email: Proposer's email masked to public

Please note: your email address and contact information will be masked on the website for privacy reasons. Only IEEE History Center Staff will be able to view the email address.

Street address(es) and GPS coordinates of the intended milestone plaque site(s):

Town Common Southbridge Massachusetts

Describe briefly the intended site(s) of the milestone plaque(s). The intended site(s) must have a direct connection with the achievement (e.g. where developed, invented, tested, demonstrated, installed, or operated, etc.). A museum where a device or example of the technology is displayed, or the university where the inventor studied, are not, in themselves, sufficient connection for a milestone plaque.

Please give the address(es) of the plaque site(s) (GPS coordinates if you have them). Also please give the details of the mounting, i.e. on the outside of the building, in the ground floor entrance hall, on a plinth on the grounds, etc. If visitors to the plaque site will need to go through security, or make an appointment, please give the contact information visitors will need.

The proposed site is in the Southbridge MA Town Common on Main Street directly across from the old American Optical main plant where the work took place. The Common is public land owned by Southbridge. On Jan 23, 2012 the Southbridge Town Council granted permission to place the Milestone plaque in the Common.

Are the original buildings extant?


Details of the plaque mounting:

How is the site protected/secured, and in what ways is it accessible to the public?

The site is open to the public.

Who is the present owner of the site(s)?

Town of Southbridge, MA

A letter in English, or with English translation, from the site owner(s) giving permission to place IEEE milestone plaque on the property:

A letter or email from the appropriate Section Chair supporting the Milestone application:

What is the historical significance of the work (its technological, scientific, or social importance)?

Elias Snitzer and colleagues developed the first working optical fiber laser and amplifier in 1963 at American Optical, drawing on his earlier work in optical fibers and his demonstration of the first solid-state laser made of glass in 1961. His ground-breaking combination of two young technologies, published in Applied Optics in 1964, was many years ahead of its time. The advent of optical fiber amplifiers was vital in building the high-speed backbone of the global telecommunications network, which carries our words, pictures and data around the planet. More recently, fiber lasers have become powerful tools in manufacturing, generating multikilowatt beams that can cut and weld materials from plastics to metals.

What obstacles (technical, political, geographic) needed to be overcome?

Maiman's demonstration of the ruby laser led to the development of lasers based on many other solids, as well as gas and semiconductor diode lasers. Solid-state lasers were particularly valued because they had higher gain than gases, and could be made larger in size than semiconductor diodes. However, that required growing large blocks of crystal, a time-consuming and expensive task. Snitzer drew on American Optical's expertise to make lasers from a much less costly material, glass doped with small amounts of neodymium. He then extended that work to make fiber lasers and amplifiers, which concentrated light in small volumes, enhancing their oscillation and amplification properties. Snitzer realized that potential, although at the time it was not obvious how fiber lasers or amplifiers would be used.

What features set this work apart from similar achievements?

Other early solid-state lasers, such as the ruby laser demonstrated by Theodore Maiman in 1960, another IEEE Milestone, were made of bulk materials. The fiber laser uniquely transmitted the light it generated along a light-guiding core, concentrating its energy in a small area inside the glass, and making it easy to transfer light from a fiber laser into a passive optical fiber for transmission. This became important when fiber-optic communications emerged in the 1970s, because optical signals needed to be amplified after passing through tens of kilometers of glass. Initially that required converting the signals into electronic form for amplification, but building upon Snitzer's work, David Payne and others developed optical fiber amplifiers that could directly boost signal strength across a wide range of wavelengths, allowing high-speed transmission across continents and under oceans. That technology is today the backbone of the global telecommunication technology. Fiber lasers also have proved exceptionally well suited for efficiently generating high-quality beams with powers reaching many kilowatts in strength, greatly expanding the applications of lasers in cutting, welding and other machining of materials from plastics to metals.

References to establish the dates, location, and importance of the achievement: Minimum of five (5), but as many as needed to support the milestone, such as patents, contemporary newspaper articles, journal articles, or citations to pages in scholarly books. At least one of the references must be from a scholarly book or journal article.

Supporting materials (supported formats: GIF, JPEG, PNG, PDF, DOC): All supporting materials must be in English, or if not in English, accompanied by an English translation. You must supply the texts or excerpts themselves, not just the references. For documents that are copyright-encumbered, or which you do not have rights to post, email the documents themselves to Please see the Milestone Program Guidelines for more information.