Gordon Gould Biography (1920-)


In the late 1950s, the race was on among American scientists to build the first light-amplification machine, or laser. Several developers, working independently, conducted experiments based on Charles Townes's early research, culminating with Theodore Maiman 's working model in 1960. The theories of GordonGould predated Maiman's work by several years, and it is Gould who, after many years, is now recognized as the true inventor of the laser.

Born in 1920 in New York City, Gould earned his undergraduate degree in physics from Union College in Schenectady, New York and later received his master's from Yale. Like many scientists of his time, Gould worked for the government during World War II, remaining in New York to participate in the ManhattanProject with the scientists developing the atomic bomb. After the war, he went back to school to pursue his Ph .D. at Columbia.

It was here, while studying for his doctorate in 1957, that the idea for thelaser came to him, in a "flash of insight." Many scientists had been struggling with the concept of a light amplifier, ever since Townes's maser first achieved stimulated emission of microwaves in 1954. Indeed, the concepts essential for lasers had been around since 1917, when Albert Einstein (1879-1955) had first discussed them in depth, but nobody had developed a feasible design.Gould's model would be the first to put together all the available pieces. Hequickly copied the complete design in his notebook and had it notarized, andit was in these notes that Gould coined the term "light amplification by thestimulated emission of radiation," or laser.

However, due to an unfortunate mix-up at a patent office, Gould came under the misconception that one had to exhibit a working model of a device to be awarded its patent. Thus, while he went back to the laboratory to build his machine, Townes and Arthur Schawlow (1921- ) quickly patented their own remarkably similar design notes.

Gould spent the bulk of the next twenty years fighting to get the patent back, a legal struggle as much for recognition as for royalties. By the 1970s, lasers had become an integral and profitable part of several industries, and Gould's designs applied to almost ninety percent of all lasers used. His optically pumped laser was employed by designers and surveyors, while his gas-discharged laser had found use as a price scanner in supermarket checkout lanes. In 1977, the United States Patent Office finally gave Gould thepatent for his initial laser design, and since then he has won major court battles with AT&T and General Motors.

Recent Updates

September 16, 2005: Gould died on September 16, 2005, in New York, NewYork, due to circulatory and vascular ailments. He was 85. Source: New York Times, www.nytimes.com, September 20, 2005; Washington Post, www.washingtonpost.com, September 20, 2005.

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