Lasers: Harnessing the Atom's Light

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9780716750819: Lasers: Harnessing the Atom's Light

Lasers is a brief, engaging glimpse at the microscopic and macroscopic world of the laser. More than three decades ago, lasers put the power of the photon in our grasp. But the Age of Optics has only just begun. Harbison and Nahory, who are experts in lasers and laser-related semiconductors, describe how excited electrons inside lasers release photons, which are directed by mirrors into a single, potent beam of light. These beams can repair a damaged eye, play a compact disc or carry a telephone conversation across the ocean. Using lavish illustrations and well chosen examples, the authors explain how lasers so tiny that they are invisible to the naked eye, and made of materials built atom by atom, are possible.

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Review:

It is curious that although H. G. Wells had invading Martians use destructive, focused "heat rays" in 1898, and although Einstein laid their theoretical foundation in 1917, lasers weren't invented until 1960. Perhaps in homage to Wells, our image of lasers often has more to do with weaponry than with the lasers in our printers, compact disc players, grocery stores, and telephone systems. Bell Labs physicists James Harbison and Robert Nahory illuminate (ahem) the quantum principles behind modern semiconductor lasers in far greater and clearer detail than is usual in popular accounts. The result is a first-class introduction to optics, quantum chemistry, and electronics, as well as a guide to the "Age of Optoelectronics" that is just beginning.

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