When Laser Science Was ‘Far Out’

Science Friday

April 22, 2016

Elsa Garmire
Dr. Elsa Garmire
in front of one of her laser light artworks in 1992. Dr. Garmire’s artistic experiments with lasers in the early seventies inspired the laser light show known as "Laserium." Photo by Patricia Tryforos

Back in the 1970s, planetariums across the country found themselves with a hit on their hands. No, it wasn’t the traditional tour of the Milky Way—it was the laser light show. Productions like "Laserium" reached millions of people with their groovy meldings of laser spectacle synched to the latest hits from hip bands like Pink Floyd and the Electric Light Orchestra. And if you don’t think “Laserium” was "high" on science, think again: The show had its origins in Elsa Garmire's Caltech lab. Garmire and science historian Patrick McCray join Ira to tell the story of how Garmire’s artistic experiments with lasers launched a ‘70s trend.

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