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Typography by Julie Teninbaum

Fast Company

Fifty Years of Lasers, by the Numbers

The first U.S. patent for the laser went to Arthur Schawlow and Charles Townes 50 years ago this month. Both physicists won Nobels for the work, which -- with that of ex-colleague Gordon Gould -- has sparked decades of innovation and sci-fi fantasy. A look at the data.

Infographic: Field of Beams Popup-Icon

Physicist Gordon Gould spent millions of dollars fighting for his right to a laser patent, including signing away 80% of potential proceeds.

Still he wound up a rich man, earning several million dollars when he finally started receiving royalties in the late 1980s.

LaserDisc players were made for the consumer market from 1978 until 2009, when Pioneer, the last manufacturer, halted production.

At 11.81 inches, the average LaserDisc was about twice the diameter of a DVD.

The 2009 SNL Digital Short "Laser Cats" featured only two real cats.

11 people have one Nobel Prizes for laser technologies.

1,566,909 laser-hair-removal procedures were performed in 2005 (an all-time high). The number has since slid to 1,280,964.

A laser message during the show at the Laser Dome in Seattle's Pacific Science Center costs $50.

Researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, in California, plan to use 192 giant lasers to generate nuclear power, as part of a thermonuclear-fusion project that begins this spring.

At 14,000 square feet, Laser Rock, in Bellville, Illinois, is the world's largest laser-tag arena.

Laser-related accidents have cause at least 12 deaths in the past 50 years. Nearly all the victims were scientists experimenting in the lab.

In a 2008 survey of 2,000 film fans, the light saber, of Star Wars fame, was named the most popular film weapon. The laser sword beat out Dirty Harry's .44 Magnum and Indiana Jones's bullwhip.

Last Fall, Dell introduced a color laser printer that can print up to 37 double-sided pages per minute. The company claims it's the fastest.

The first transatlantic fiber-optic cable -- which uses lasers -- entered service in 1988, running from New Jersey to England to France. The $335 million TAT-8 -- the eighth transatlantic telephone cable -- could handle 40,000 calls at once. It was retired in 2002.

Typography by Julie Teninbaum

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  • Jenny Rodrigo

    Good to read that you don't have lasers in space beaming down onto the population below - lets keep them for health and elecronics use.