- Hardcover: 216 pages
- Publisher: Laser Pr (Feb. 1 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0970292708
- ISBN-13: 978-0970292704
- Product Dimensions: 15.9 x 1.9 x 22.9 cm
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 Kg
- Average Customer Review: 4 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,749,853 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Laser Odyssey Hardcover – Feb 1 2001
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About the Author
Theodore H. Maiman. Listed in "Who's Who in the World". BS Engineering-Physics, Univ. of Colo.; MS Electrical Engineering, Stanford; PhD Physics, Stanford (under Nobel Laureate, Willis Lamb). Member: National Academy of Sciences; National Academy of Enginering; Fellow: American Physical Society; Optical Society of America. Recipient: Hertz Award (granted in White House ceremony by Lyndon B. Johnson); National Inventors Hall of Fame (in company with: Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell and the Wright Brothers). Japan Prize (dignified by the Emperor of Japan); Wolf Prize in Physics; Honorary Fellow, Royal College of Surgeons of England.
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Maiman used a ruby cylinder and a flashlamp to make a pulsed laser. It was "easy" to do this in 1960 in the same sense that it would have been easy to make a tinfoil phonograph in 1877, provided only that Edison showed you how. After Maiman's breakthrough other physicists (especially those associated with maser development) implied they had published or communicated information sufficient to make the pulsed ruby solution obvious. To that Maiman replied roughly as follows: "Everyone knows there was an all-out race to make the first laser. If it was so obvious, why didn't you build it?"
During his career Maiman became acutely conscious of the dismissive attitude sometimes exhibited by academic scientists toward industrial scientists. He was in a special position to observe such prejudice because he made a major scientific advance while employed by an aerospace company. The maser, on the other hand, had come from Charles Townes and his university/Bell Labs background. Although not a source of visible light, the maser was a coherent microwave amplifier widely promoted as the device that would naturally be "extended" to make a laser (Maiman's contrary views on this point are very interesting). When Maiman succeeded there seemed to be an implicit feeling in academia that the achievement came from the wrong side of the tracks and was therefore somehow illegitimate. Perhaps the earliest clear hint of such a feeling surfaced when the editors of Physical Review rejected Maiman's paper describing the world's first successful laser! The excuse that Hughes had already announced only seemed to underline the journal's anti-industry bias.
Although it is centered on laser technology, Maiman's book is really an autobiography. We learn about his childhood and education, his mentors, and an early project in which, somewhat ironically, he greatly improved the design of a maser. In contemplating his place in history, he is very frank about what he sees as injustices. He usually has good reasons for complaining and generously praises those he admires. Clearly Maiman has enjoyed the honors and awards that have come to him, since he describes them at some length. I had a bit of trouble getting used to his writing style, particularly the placement of commas, but that reduces not at all my enthusiastic recommendation of "Laser Odyssey."
Some sources try to diminish him as an inventor stating that he made the first "working laser". This is a result of efforts of some laser scientists who would like to convey that more important in laser development than Maiman's work was a paper published in the December 1958 issue of Physical Review by C. Townes and A. Shawlow (a proposal for an infrared potassium laser). But the irony is that nobody succeeded in building a potassium laser, while Theodor Maiman built a laser on May 16 of 1960 based on the use of ruby, a crystal discarded as unsuitable for laser by other scientists. In addition, Maiman succeeded with an operating budget of fifty thousands dollars while various universities used millions of dollars for their laser research.
The Laser Odyssey introduces the reader to Maiman's difficult journey to build the laser and to the world of politics and intrigue in the post - laser period.
The book, written by Theodore Maiman, gives a detailed analysis of the development of the first laser. It is a fascinating book for a physicist or a lover of science although written for the general reader.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
If you appreciate the benefits of CD or DVD players, laser surgery, laser pointers, or the nearly infinite other applications of this relatively new technology, you owe it to yourself to read this book. It will probably inspire you to see the world not as it is, but as it might be.
PS On a tangentially related note, I was extremely disappointed only by the fact that the used copy of this book that I purchased here on Amazon from a bookstore across the country turned out on arrival to be a decommissioned library book from a library nearby which no longer stocked this book. Why libraries discard books of ongoing relevance for some of the less enlightening fair they stock their shelves with instead never ceases to puzzle, although one could hypothesize that the same political machinations that attempted to deny Maiman his due credit also continue to work to diminish his legacy.
I'd heard a lot of different angles on the beginnings of laser technology over the years, mostly coming from the opinions and viewpoints of other notable people who were involved with its genesis (particularly Townes and Schawlow). But until I found this book, I could find virtually nothing from the man who actually made the first laser.
How anyone could dispute that Theodore Maiman built the first working laser is beyond me- and yet they did. He was even told once that it really wasn't a laser at all by someone who either didn't know what they were talking about, or was too jealous to care.
This book goes into detail the ridiculous difficulty that Maiman had trying to convince the scientific community of his achievements, while the outside world had no problem accepting it (even if they did sensationalize it by calling it a "death ray").
I was especially impressed with Maiman's determination to follow through with using ruby in spite of being told by most everyone- including his bosses- that it wouldn't work and he should stop wasting time on it. He proved them wrong of course, but still had to face a frustrating and daunting uphill battle to get the proper recognition for his achievement. Sadly this injustice continues at times even today, with other people often being given credit for inventing laser technology.
This well-written memoir uncovers a world of greed, corruption, and blatant injustice while blending several interesting personal stories that- even if sometimes a little off-topic- only add to the interest and overall value of the book rather than detracting from it.
I only wish that I'd learned of this book much sooner. It would have answered many questions I've had for a long time. Maiman's story is well worth reading, and there's no question he wrote it from the heart. It gets a high recommendation from me.