Lasers are celebrating their 50th birthday this year. The first laser was demonstrated in 1960 by Theodore Maiman and his research group at Hughes† in California. Here is a good background article on the first laser, its inventor and the role that Einstein played in developing the theory of stimulated emission.
The principle of laser operation is outlined in this description of Maiman’s laser, which used a rod of polished ruby inside a spiral flashtube.
My favourite James Bond film, Goldfinger, has a scene where Sean Connery (the best 007 imho) is strapped to a table under a huge red laser. It should have been a saw but the invention of the laser, just 4 years earlier, was a gift for the writers. This scene helped the film win the best effects Oscar in 1965 and, more importantly, gave us the ultimate Bond quote:
Bond: Do you expect me to talk?
Goldfinger: No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.
Everyone should watch the laser scene.
Bonus points if you can tell me about the bad physics in that clip.
†I used to work for Hughes before I trained as a physics teacher – the Glenrothes branch, not Malibu Beach, California.