Geek Trivia: Shedding some (laser) light

Which physicist effectively coined the term <em>laser</em>, bringing into the public consciousness a device and concept previously known in academic circles as an <em>optical maser</em>?

Which physicist effectively coined the term laser, bringing into the public consciousness a device and concept previously known in academic circles as an optical maser?

Every now and then, Geek Trivia tries to sneak one past you: The man who "coined" the term laser also gets credit for inventing the laser: Gordon Gould.

In 1959, Gould wrote the paper, "The LASER, Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation," which represents the first known publication of the term laser. It also lays out the principles that would allow Theodore H. Maiman to build the first working laser in 1960. Of course, Gould did have plans for the term LASER that didn't quite come to pass.

First of all, Gould wrote the term in all capital letters, considering it an acronym. Second, he intended for the first letter in the word to be interchangeable, shifting to reflect whichever EM band stimulated emissions of radiation amplified. For example, microwaves would make masers, visible light would make lasers, x-rays would make xasers, gamma rays would make grasers, ultraviolet light would make uvasers, infrared radiation would make irasers, and so on.

The scientific community has largely abandoned the acronym etymology of laser, with the word appearing as an all-lowercase noun. Common vernacular is the exact opposite of the original laser phraseology; for example, we call them x-ray lasers, not xasers. Only masers, which predate lasers, escaped this etymological revisionism, though it's possible you still might hear someone use the term microwave laser.

Finally, laser produced a derived verb, lase, which means "To function as a laser; emit coherent radiation by the action of a laser" (according to It's doubtful even Gould could have seen that one coming, but such is the nature of enlightening Geek Trivia.

The Quibble of the Week

If you uncover a questionable fact or debatable aspect of this week's Geek Trivia, just post it in the discussion. Every week, yours truly will choose the best post from the assembled masses and discuss it in a future edition of Geek Trivia.

There's no conventional quibble this week, folks. Instead, I'll point you back to the original discussion associated with this Classic Geek Trivia, which inadvertently became a full-on theoretical physics debate about the technical plausibility of a gravitic laser.

And people call me a geek. Next week, we'll resume our regularly scheduled quibbling.

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The Trivia Geek, also known as Jay Garmon, is a former advertising copywriter and Web developer who's duped TechRepublic into underwriting his affinity for movies, sci-fi, comic books, technology, and all things geekish or subcultural.

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