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Beam: The Race to Make the Laser


Beam: The Race to Make the Laser Cover


Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

Beam is the story of the race to make the laser, the three intense years from the birth of the laser idea to its breakthrough demonstration in a California laboratory. The quest was a struggle against physics, established wisdom, and the establishment itself.

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 borth ation 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.

Book News Annotation:

The author of several books on lasers and fiber optics, Hecht turns this time to the intense and high-stakes race to build the world's first laser. The book describes how, over three years, teams led by physicist Charles Townes (inventor of the maser, the laser's microwave predecessor) and doctoral student Gordon Gould sought to be the first to extend the physical principles used in the maser to the realm of light amplification, only to be beaten out by Ted Maiman, a little known physicist from California, inventor of a small device that was the first working ruby laser. A highly readable chronicle of an exciting period in mid-20th century science, this book will interest many general readers as well as historians of technology. Annotation ©2010 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (

About the Author

Jeff Hecht has been writing about lasers and optics for thirty-five years. A correspondent for New Scientist and a contributing editor to Laser Focus World, his books include: City of Light: The Story of Fiber Optics (OUP, 1999; expanded and revised edition 2004), Understanding Lasers: An Entry-Level Guide (2008), Understanding Fiber Optics (2005), Laser: Light of a Million Uses (1998), Laser Pioneers (1992), Optics: Light for a New Age (1988), and The Laser Guidebook (1991). His web site is

Table of Contents



1. The Laser Race

2. Microwaves Are the First Step

3. Leaping a Few Orders of Magnitude: The Optical Maser

4. The Outsider's Invention: The Laser

5. Bell Labs Takes the Early Lead

6. Stimulating the Emission of Money

7. A Spreading Interest in the Laser Idea

8. A Pause to Compare Notes

9. A Dark Horse Joins the Race

10. "Everybody Knew It Was Going to Happen Within Months"--Bell Labs Feels Safely in the Lead

11. A Crash Program at "Pipsqueak Inc."

12. The Siren Call of the Laser

13. The Critical Question of Efficiency

14. An Idea Simpler in Theory than in Practice

15. Triumph in the Palace of Science

16. An Unexpected Struggle for Acceptance

17. "We Were Astounded"--A Stunned Reaction

18. Runners-Up Cross the Finish Line

19. Epilogue

Dramatis Personae




Product Details

Hecht, Jeff
Oxford University Press, USA
null, Jeff
Lasers & Photonics
Physics | Atomic, Molecular,
Optical physics
Physics | Atomic, Molecular, & Optical physics
History of Science-General
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
47 halftones and line illus.
6.1 x 9.1 x 0.5 in 0.9 lb

Related Subjects

History and Social Science » Law » General
Reference » Science Reference » Technology
Science and Mathematics » Environmental Studies » Environment
Science and Mathematics » History of Science » General
Science and Mathematics » History of Science » Technology
Science and Mathematics » Physics » General
Science and Mathematics » Physics » Laser Technology
Science and Mathematics » Physics » Optics

Beam: The Race to Make the Laser New Trade Paper
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Product details 288 pages Oxford University Press, USA - English 9780199738717 Reviews:
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