The Race to Make the Laser

Book - 2005
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Baker & Taylor
Describes how a team of scientists sought to be the first to invent a practical device for light amplification, only to be beaten by a little-known physicist who created the first working ruby laser.

Book News
While some researchers sought fame and prestige at their Bell Telephone laboratory, others worked in secret on a military contract, and still others, basically one pair of decidedly dark horses, toiled on an heretical idea in a small space at Hughes Research Laboratories. When the right light finally appeared to the pair at Hughes, pulsing red at a rate even the one who was color-blind could dimly see, they knew they had the first ruby laser; what is more, they had it on their first try. It was 1960, and theirs was the culmination of years of theoretical and applied research. Journalist Hecht describes these very different paths leading to the laser, the people in the teams and their approaches, the debates between and amidst teams, and the fight for the two dark horses to get recognition. Hecht includes a number of period photographs. Annotation ©2004 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (

Oxford University Press
In 1954, Charles Townes invented the laser's microwave cousin, the maser. The next logical step was to extend the same physical principles to the shorter wavelengths of light, but the idea did not catch fire until October 1957, when Townes asked Gordon Gould about Gould's research on using light to excite thallium atoms. Each took the idea and ran with it. The independent-minded Gould sought the fortune of an independent inventor; the professorial Townes sought the fame of scientific recognition. Townes enlisted the help of his brother-in-law, Arthur Schawlow, and got Bell Labs into the race. Gould turned his ideas into a patent application and a million-dollar defense contract. They soon had company. Ali Javan, one of Townes's former students, began pulling 90-hour weeks at Bell Labs with colleague Bill Bennett. And far away in California a bright young physicist named Ted Maiman became a very dark horse in the race. While Schawlow proclaimed that ruby could never make a laser, Maiman slowly convinced himself it would. As others struggled with recalcitrant equipment and military secrecy, Maiman built a tiny and elegant device that fit in the palm of his hand. His ruby laser worked the first time he tried it, on May 16, 1960, but afterwards he had to battle for acceptance as the man who made the first laser. Beam is a fascinating tale of a remarkable and powerful invention that has become a symbol of modern technology.

Publisher: Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 2005
ISBN: 0195142101 (acid-free paper)
Branch Call Number: 621.36609 HEC
Characteristics: x, 274 p. : ill. ; 24 cm

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