A History of Laser Cleaning

History of Laser Cleaning

Lasers have a variety of uses — from playing with a kitten using a laser pointer to cleaning corrosion from an F-35 jet with a high-powered cleaning laser. It’s easy to see how different types of lasers can provide different results, but what are lasers, anyway? The word laser often makes people think of scientific weaponry, the future, or high tech, but the discovery of lasers had much more humble uses in mind.


Prior to the discovery of lasers, people had been using wavelengths to transmit signals through radio for about 50 years. Scientists began using masers during experiments, but only a few believed that infrared masers could be more important to other industries — including the military. The problem with infrared rays is that it couldn’t be manipulated like radar.

This problem plagued Charles Townes and his graduate student Gordon Gould. They discussed their ideas and one day in 1957 — while studying the equations for amplifying radiation — Townes realized that making the wavelengths shorter would make them easier to manage. He talked over his findings with Arthur Schawlow, who put atoms into a long, narrow cavity with mirrors at each end. This caused the rays to radiate.

At the same time, Townes’ student Gould made the same discovery while writing his thesis about infrared masers. He called the device a LASER for light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation. But, when he got around to requesting a patent for the device, he found that Townes and Schawlow had already patented it nine months prior.

When the patent was granted, Gould sued, and a 30-year patent war began. It wasn’t until 1987 that Gould began to win settlements, and anyone who built or used a laser during that time owed him money. Despite the patent war seemingly having a winner, assigning credit for the actual invention of lasers remains controversial.


1948: Dennis Gabor discovered holography. He developed his invention through the early 70s — winning the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1971 — and his discovery has led to the explosive industry that includes HUDs, museum displays, VR, medical application, and solar panel efficiency.

1960: Theodore Maiman created the first laser using a cylinder of man-made ruby, one cm in diameter, and two cm long. He went on to found the Korad Corporation. His company built the lunar laser ranging equipment used in 1969.

1961: Dr. Charles Campbell and Charles Koester created a laser that could be used for medical treatments and surgery. Their American optical ruby laser was able to destroy a retinal tumor using a single pulse that lasted a thousandth of a second.

1962: Robert Hall developed the semiconductor injection laser. It’s simplified design made it more stable. It was revolutionary for his time, and many electronic appliances and communication systems still use it today.

1973: J.F. Asmus proposed that lasers could be used to clean artwork. He spent the next 10 or more years refining his discovery — restricted by the type of lasers available at the time.

1977: The first electron laser was developed by John Madley and Stanford University. It’s tunable and has the widest frequency of any laser technology. This type of laser has a variety of uses, including crystallography and cell biology to surgery, fat removal, and more.

2001: The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and US Army developed a solid state heat capacity laser, also called SSHCL, for potential military weaponry. It’s used to target and destroy short-range rockets, guided missiles, artillery, and mortar fire — among other weapons.

2017: The University of Regensburg, Germany, discovered that lasers could be used to increase the speed of computers. By using infrared laser pulses fired into a honeycomb-shaped lattice, they were able to flip a switch on and off one quadrillion times per second.


Using the theory and research discovered by J.F. Amus more than 40 years ago, today lasers can clean products of all sizes. It works by sending nanosecond length pulses of laser light towards a surface. As the layers of contaminants absorb the laser light, the coating particles will either turn into a gas or the pressure of the interaction will cause the oil, corrosion, or other contaminants to free from the surface.

Once the combination of settings and solutions for your specific needs have been identified, the process is the same: the laser works very efficiently without affecting the integrity of the surface you’re cleaning. This means that you’ll get a smooth finish without sacrificing the integrity of your product. Plus, lasers are environmentally-friendly with no waste — requiring little to no cleanup.


Adapt Laser specializes in the know-how and application of laser cleaning solutions. We offer products with a range between 20 and 1,000 watts and provide training to ensure your employees can get the most from their laser cleaning solutions. We’ve equipped a variety of industries and companies with laser cleaning solutions — including military and defense for the US Airforce and Navy — and hundreds of organizations trust our state-of-the-art laser cleaning solutions.

Contact us today or call (816) 466-5855 to find the right laser cleaning solution for you.