1964: Alexsandr M. Prokhorov, Charles H. Townes, and Nicolay G. Basov
Townes, Basov and Prokhorov's fundamental work in quantum electronics and laser theory lead to the construction of the first operating laser by Theodore Maiman in 1960. Everyday technologies like CD players and laser pointers are firmly rooted in their work.
1971: Dennis Gabor
Gabor developed the theory of holography in the late 1940's. One of the most recognizable applications of laser technology, early holograms were limited in depth, as there was no source of highly coherent light at the time. Holography research benefited greatly from the invention of the laser, with its high coherency.
1981: Nicolaas Bloembergen and Arthur L. Schawlow
Bloembergen and Schawlow contributed significantly to the development of laser spectroscopy and non-linear optical effects, including "mixing" one light beam with another and permanently joining several laser beams. These phenomena are seen in optical fibers and are a characteristic of future optical computers.
1989: Norman F. Ramsey
Ramsey's development of the resonance method and the hydrogen maser laid the groundwork for the cesium atomic clock, our current time standard. A hydrogen maser is a type of atomic clock that operates at the resonance frequency of the hydrogen atom.
1997: Steven Chu, Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, and William D. Phillips
Chu, Cohen-Tannoudji, and Phillips developed the method known as laser cooling, where atoms are trapped and cooled to very low temperatures with laser light. Laser cooling has enabled scientists to study the fundamental nature of atoms.
2001: Eric A. Cornell, Wolfgang Ketterle, and Carl E. Wieman
Cornell, Ketterle, and Wieman used laser cooling (along with evaporative cooling) to achieve an extreme state of matter known as Bose-Einstein condensation, by chilling atomic gases to temperatures around one microkelvin-while preventing the atoms from condensing into a solid or a liquid.
2005: John L. Hall and Theodor W. Hänsch
Hall and Hänsch developed laser-based precision spectroscopy, most notably the optical frequency comb technique. A frequency comb uses ultrafast lasers to measure the different colors or frequencies of light with extreme precision. Frequency combs are paving the way towards building extremely accurate optical atomic clocks.
2006: John C. Mather and George F. Smoot
Mathers and Smoot used the masers aboard NASA's COBE satellite to measure the cosmic microwave background radiation- a picture of the blackbody radiation leftover from the big bang. Subtle temperature variations within the radiation offer clues as to how the first galaxies formed.
2009: Charles K. Kao
Kao is a pioneer in the development of fiber optics in telecommunications. His discovery of fiber light-loss properties is recognized as an essential milestone in the formation of the technology. Optical fibers carrying laser light have proven to be much more effective over longer distances and higher bandwidths than other forms of communication. For achievements, he was rewarded 1/2 of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physics.
1999: Ahmed Zewail
Zewail successfully used a rapid laser technique called femtosecond spectroscopy to observe how atoms in a molecule move during a chemical reaction. In femtosecond spectroscopy, a pump-probe experiment "photographs" chemical reactions as they happen, using an ultrafast laser as "flash".