Polish laser technology of former socialist system

Average reader does not associate former economic system with high quality products, let alone high end technology. You can be surprised with the fact, that Polish People's Republic has created sizeable scientific research backup and industry of laser optics as well. What's more, socialist Poland belonged to elite group of countries possesing such technologies at that time. On some fields Poland pioneered the research. Beside of USA - unquestionable leader, scientific programmes were conducted in Japan, West Germany, United Kingdom, Sweden, Austria, Switzerland and some of East Bloc: East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Soviet Union.

We can hardly imagne nowadays life without laser. It is used practicaly at all modern household goods as well as at industry, medicine, geodesy, meteorology and even in school or at funfair. Begining of this technology starts at early fifties when under the direction of three scientists: C. Townes (1954), N. Basov, A. Prochorov (1955) were constructed first prototypes of working maser lasers. For this achievement these gentlemen were awarded a Nobel Prize.

Polish research gave outcome at the sixties. One of the pioneers was Wiesław Woliński - professor of Warsaw Polytechnic. Under his direction there was built first in Poland laser on neodymium glass (1964) and molecular laser (1966). Amongst other veterans for Polish laser optics are professor Miron Gaj (holography), eng. Eugeniusz Jagoszewski, physicists A. Piekara, K.Rosiński, T. Skaliński, dr. Z. Puziewicz. One cannot forget about professor Bohdan Paszkowski, one of the greatest constructors of many Polish devices as noctovision. microwave valves, middle power lasers. Prof. eng. Sylwester Kaliski is also very prominent figure. His scientific research on nuclear microsythesis elevated Poland to world's top.

Large part of output were devices meant for doing research. Dr. Romuald Pawluczyk created first hologram (three dimensional photography) in 1967. He buit holographic microscope at Central Optic Laboratory. This research made possible to construct tv and movie holocamera HS-1 at Institute of Optics under auspices of Military Academy of Technology in the eighties. This device was used for examination of dynamic events by means of interferometry. Due to some technical obstacles like large transmission band, tv project was never put into practice.
Totally different story was with devices for holographic research. ZH sets, built in Warsaw Central Optic Laboratory, were put into production (ZHL and ZHB series) at Polish Optical Company. These products equiped Polish and foreign laboratories. At Centre of Excellence on Application of Plasmas and Pulsed-Power Technique (named of Sylwester Kaliski now) in Warsaw the most powerful lasers K-2, K-4 at that time were built for examination of plasma and magnetic field interactions. The Centre possessed other lasers like impulse rubin laser for instance.
At 1965 there has been built first native homojunction laser L-1 based on semiconductors. Later it was developed into CQYP-60 - the large power laser at Institute of Electronic Technology CEMI (Instytut Technologii Elektronowej CEMI). That Institute was brought into existence at late seventies by initiative of Edward Gierek - prime secretary of Central Commettee of The Polish United Workers' Party.

Thanks to these fundamental works lasers found their practical applications. Military had portable long range laser meter S-153. It was able to measure distance at range of 150m up to 10 km (6 miles) with 10 meter resolution. It was constructed by Military Academy of Technology.

Medical Lasers

Even though transfer of laser technology to industry and everyday life was limited there is no doubt that the greatest success of the former social and economic system was emergence of laser at medicine. We (the Poles) were unquestionable world leader on this field. First in the state laser surgical operation on an eye was conducted by professor of medicine Tadeusz Kęcik in 1965. Though research must have been done for further 13 years till lasers were applied in hospital pracitce. It was professor Zdzisław Jankiewicz whose pioneer research made possible to build native medical laser. He is the biggest figure of Polish laser physics in socialist Poland. Thanks to him at 1978 group of practitioners: professor Tadeusz Orłowski and Janusz Domaniecki, Jerzy Strużyna made the first in the whole world surgical operation using lasers. At the same year in United States Doughberty made surgery. Five years later, in 1983, to this elite Japan joined. First surgery at hospital conditions has been made in Poland at18th June 1979.
Since then many types of medical lasers were constructed: KL-4 by M.A.T - laser for eye microsurgery, LMOP-1 and 2 - laser sets for eye's retina surgery (Institute of Optoelectronics M.A.T) used in Eye Clinic Medical Academy in Warsaw, AR-1 - laser for eye microsurgery built by Institute of Optoelectronics M.A.T. - with it in 1985 number of 1000 operations was reached, Poland used to produce as one of few countries laser surgical lancets LLCh-1 and laryngological (ear-throat specialist) lasers LLL-1.

Lasers in industry and construction

Medicine was not the only branch of economy to gain benefit of this technology. There was constructed by M.A.T laser named "DALAR". It was designed for mauserements of distance and atmosphere (meteorology). This institution build also lasers for geodesy, for instance ULIG-KP1, devices for determining the vertical distance between two points KP-2, KP-4 and for construction - LB-2. It is worth to notice in that time only a few countries produced similar equipment. These stuff had quite exacting parameters. For instance KP series apparatus was able to meausre difference of 1 milimeter in height location of two points being in distance of 2500 meters (one and a half of mile) to each other.

Industry produced laser welding-drillers LMT and ML series used for processing of metals, plastics, asbestos etc. They're produced by NITRON-MIKRON Company which also supplied electronic equipment producers. There were in production resistor cutters LSZPK LNR-2 - apparatus for marking silicon chips, system for super precision correction of resistors TR-300 (tolerance of 0,003%).

Lasers in telecommunication

Usage lasers in communication system was important achievement though not spreaded much. Professor Adam Smoliński at Warsaw Polytechnic worked out fundamentals of Polish light waveguides technology at the turn of the sixties and seventies. Another person involved in waveguides was professor Mieczysław Szustakowski. He designed light waveguide junction, lenses, hydrophone, lightdriven gyroscope. The last to mention here is professor Andrzej Waksmudzki. He designed and produced as first in the country light waveguides and low suppression cables. That was him who laid first ligth wave guide telecommunication lines in Poland. That was in 1979 at Lublin (lenght of 2,5 km) and LódŸ (1982, 5 km).

Lasers in daily life

We are approaching to the end of this article. As for ending I will write here about some designs for consumers. There were lasers for education system (LG-200), at Wrocław Museum at Panorama of the battle of Racławice were used laser pointers (LG-180c). At last but not least, in established at early eighties company UNITRA-ELTRA with Japanese cooperation there were produced stereo sets of radio, casette and CD players known as SANKEI CD-99.

Despite of technical and technological embargo imposed by USA, despite of shortages in personnel, equipment and funds, in former economic system was created area for research at world's highest level. It was successful in putting to production devices doing Polish industry a credit. Thanks to those former intensive research and extensive - compared to available resources - investments contemporary Poland belongs to top scientific teams in optical linear and non-linear physics.

Issued on website: 6th May 2007
Article was printed in Worker's Tribune (Trybuna Robotnicza) in January 2007
English translation by author: 25th May 2007