Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2011

Document Type

Thesis

Department

History

First Advisor

Paul Sutter

Abstract

This thesis investigates the American public’s general reactions to and reception of the laser from 1960 to 2000. By analyzing newspapers, popular magazines, industry magazines, and scientists’ memoirs, I explain how the media understood the laser during each decade. The common trends I discover in the media are, to a certain extent related to the public’s understanding of the laser. I seek to answer two questions. Frist, did the public reception to the laser affect future development of laser technology? Second, why did the commercial sector invest so heavily in research and development of a technology initially developed for the military and academic research? Within each of the three chapters, I ask questions specific to the history of the laser for that time period. Some of the topics investigated in depth include the impact of laser’s role in medicine, the laser’s role in entertainment, the impact of the Strategic Defense Initiative on the public’s perception of the laser as a weapon, and the rise of CD and DVD technology. I discovered that the public’s view of lasers was heavily influenced by the military and the growing popularity over time of laser technology in the public sphere. The language employed by journalists may be a reflection of American’s reception of laser technology. While it is possible that journalists use language to shape the public’s perception of laser technology, my argument presupposes that the language employed by journalists is more of a reflection of the general understanding of lasers by its audience. My analysis of this language revealed that Americans were generally intrigued with lasers in the 1960s and 1970s, but became more indifferent to lasers in the 1980s and 1990s. By the 1990s, lasers were commonplace in America, usually as components in larger systems. The popularity of such technologies as laser printers, CD and DVD players, and laser pointers contributed to the perception of lasers as mundane.

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