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Dr Matt Young
Senior lecturer in physics, Colorado School of Mines in Golden

My field is optics, and the laser was invented when I was in college.  The optical fibre had been invented a few years earlier, and optical communication fibre, a few years later.  Lasers and optical fibres led to major innovations in communications, medicine, electronics, and other fields.  So is the laser the most important innovation in optics?  The optical fibre?  Nope.  The lens. The lens is integral to the telescope, the microscope, the camera, and almost every optical instrument you can name.  No lenses, and you have rudimentary astronomy, no cellular biology (let alone molecular biology), no photography, no spectacles, no transistors or integrated circuits, and indeed no optical fibre communications and no internet.  Virtually everything in optics and in fields that depend on optics follows from the invention of the lens.