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Encyclopedia > Gordon Gould
The first page of Gordon Gould's famous notebook, in which he coined the acronym LASER and described the essential elements for constructing one.
The first page of Gordon Gould's famous notebook, in which he coined the acronym LASER and described the essential elements for constructing one.

Gordon Gould (July 17, 1920September 16, 2005) was an American physicist who is widely (but not universally) credited as the inventor of the laser. He is best known for his thirty-year fight with the United States Patent and Trademark Office to obtain patents for the laser and related technologies, and his court battles with laser manufacturers to enforce the patents he obtained. Image File history File links Download high-resolution version (767x1023, 307 KB)This is the first page of Gordon Goulds famous notebook, in which he coined the acronym LASER, and described the essential elements for constructing one. ... Image File history File links Download high-resolution version (767x1023, 307 KB)This is the first page of Gordon Goulds famous notebook, in which he coined the acronym LASER, and described the essential elements for constructing one. ... is the 198th day of the year (199th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. ... 1920 (MCMXX) was a leap year starting on Thursday. ... is the 259th day of the year (260th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. ... Year 2005 (MMV) was a common year starting on Saturday (link displays full calendar) of the Gregorian calendar. ... Not to be confused with physician, a person who practices medicine. ... For other uses, see Inventor (disambiguation). ... For other uses, see Laser (disambiguation). ... PTO headquarters in Alexandria The United States Patent and Trademark Office (PTO or USPTO) is an agency in the United States Department of Commerce that provides patent and trademark protection to inventors and businesses for their inventions and corporate and product identification. ... For other uses, see Patent (disambiguation). ...


Early life

Born in New York City, Gould was the oldest of three sons. Both his parents were Methodists active in their community church, but he himself was an avowed atheist. His father was the founding editor of Scholastic Magazine Publications in New York City. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in physics at Union College and a Master's degree at Yale University, specializing in optics and spectroscopy. Between March 1944 and January 1945 he worked on the Manhattan Project but was dismissed due to his activities as a member of the Communist Political Association. In 1949 Gould went to Columbia University to work on a doctorate in optical and microwave spectroscopy. His doctoral supervisor was Polykarp Kusch, who guided Gould to develop expertise in the then-new technique of optical pumping. In 1956, Gould proposed using optical pumping to excite a maser, and discussed this idea with the maser's inventor, Charles Townes (who was also a professor at Columbia). Townes gave Gould advice on how to obtain a patent on his innovation, and agreed to act as a witness.[1] New York, New York and NYC redirect here. ... Topics in Christianity Movements · Denominations Ecumenism · Preaching · Prayer Music · Liturgy · Calendar Symbols · Art · Criticism Important figures Apostle Paul · Church Fathers Constantine · Athanasius · Augustine Anselm · Aquinas · Palamas · Luther Calvin · Wesley Arius · Marcion of Sinope Pope · Archbishop of Canterbury Patriarch of Constantinople Christianity Portal This box:      For school of ancient Greek medicine... “Atheist” redirects here. ... This article is about the Union College in New York. ... “Yale” redirects here. ... For the book by Sir Isaac Newton, see Opticks. ... Extremely high resolution spectrogram of the Sun showing thousands of elemental absorption lines (fraunhofer lines) Spectroscopy is the study of the interaction between radiation (electromagnetic radiation, or light, as well as particle radiation) and matter. ... The Manhattan Project resulted in the creation of the first nuclear weapons, and the first-ever nuclear detonation, known as the Trinity test of July 16, 1945. ... The Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA) is a Marxist-Leninist political party in the United States. ... Alma Mater Columbia University in the City of New York is a private university in the United States and a member of the Ivy League. ... Ultraviolet-Visible Spectroscopy or Ultraviolet-Visible Spectrophotometry (UV/ VIS) involves the spectroscopy of photons (spectrophotometry). ... Rotational spectroscopy studies the absorption of electromagnetic radiation (typically in the microwave region of the electromagnetic spectrum) by molecules. ... Polykarp Kusch (January 26, 1911 - March 20, 1993) was a German-American physicist who, with Willis Eugene Lamb, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1955 for his accurate determination that the magnetic moment of the electron was greater than its theoretical value, thus leading to reconsideration of and... Optical pumping is a process in which light is used to raise (or pump) electrons from a lower energy level in an atom or molecule to a higher one. ... A hydrogen radio frequency discharge, the first element inside a hydrogen maser (see description below) A maser is a device that produces coherent electromagnetic waves through amplification due to stimulated emission. ... Charles Hard Townes (born July 28, 1915) is an American Nobel Prize-winning physicist and educator. ...

Invention of the laser

By 1957, many scientists including Townes were looking for a way to achieve maser-like amplification of visible light. In November of that year, Gould realized that one could make an appropriate optical resonator by using two mirrors in the form of a Fabry-Pérot interferometer. Unlike previously-considered designs, this approach would produce a narrow, coherent, intense beam. Since the sides of the cavity did not need to be reflective, the gain medium could easily be optically pumped to achieve the necessary population inversion. Gould also considered pumping of the medium by atomic-level collisions, and anticipated many of the potential uses of such a device. Gould recorded his analysis and suggested applications in a laboratory notebook under the heading "Some rough calculations on the feasibility of a LASER: Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation"—the first recorded use of this acronym.[2] Arthur Schawlow and Charles Townes independently discovered the importance of the Fabry-Pérot cavity about three months later, and called the resulting proposed device an "optical maser". Gould's notebook was the first written prescription for making a viable laser and, realizing what he had in hand, he took it to a neighborhood store to have his work notarized. Year 1957 (MCMLVII) was a common year starting on Tuesday (link displays the 1957 Gregorian calendar). ... The optical spectrum (light or visible spectrum) is the portion of the electromagnetic spectrum that is visible to the human eye. ... This page meets Wikipedias criteria for speedy deletion. ... In optics, a Fabry-Pérot interferometer or etalon is typically made of a transparent plate with two reflecting surfaces, or two parallel highly reflecting mirrors. ... Coherence is the property of wave-like states that enables them to exhibit interference. ... Within a laser, the active laser medium or gain medium is the material that exhibits optical gain. ... In physics, specifically statistical mechanics, the concept of population inversion is of fundamental importance in laser science because the production of a population inversion is a necessary step in the workings of a laser. ... Laser pumping is the act of energy transfer from an external source into the laser gain medium. ... Arthur Leonard Schawlow (May 5, 1921–April 28, 1999) was an American physicist. ...

Eager to achieve a patent on his invention, and believing incorrectly that he needed to build a working laser to do this, Gould left Columbia without completing his doctoral degree and joined a private research company, TRG (Technical Research Group). He convinced his new employer to support his research, and they obtained funding for the project from the Advanced Research Projects Agency, ironically with support from Charles Townes. Unfortunately for Gould, the government declared the project classified, which meant that a security clearance was required to work on it. Because of his former participation in communist activities, Gould was unable to obtain a clearance. He continued to work at TRG, but was unable to contribute directly to the project to realize his ideas. Due to technical difficulties and perhaps Gould's inability to participate, TRG was beaten in the race to build the first working laser by Theodore Maiman at Hughes Research Laboratories. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is an agency of the United States Department of Defense responsible for the development of new technology for use by the military. ... It has been suggested that Information sensitivity be merged into this article or section. ... Theodore Maiman. ... In the 1940s, Howard Hughes created a R&D facility in Culver City, California; by the early 1960s, it had been moved to Malibu, California. ...

Patent battles

During this time, Gould and TRG began applying for patents on the technologies Gould had developed. The first pair of applications, filed together in April 1959, covered lasers based on Fabry-Pérot optical resonators, as well as optical pumping, pumping by collisions in a gas discharge (as in helium-neon lasers), optical amplifiers, Q-switching, optical heterodyning, the use of Brewster's angle windows for polarization control, and applications including manufacturing, triggering chemical reactions, measuring distance, communications, and lidar. Schawlow and Townes also applied for a patent on the laser, which was granted on 1960-03-22. Gould and TRG launched a legal challenge, based on the precedence established by his notarized notebook from 1957. While this challenge was being fought in the Patent Office and the courts, further applications were filed on specific laser technologies by Bell Labs, Hughes Research Laboratories, Westinghouse, and others. Gould ultimately lost the battle for the U.S. patent on the laser itself, primarily on the grounds that his notebook did not explicitly say that the sidewalls of the laser medium were to be transparent, even though he planned to optically pump the gain medium through them, and considered loss of light through the sidewalls by diffraction.[3] Questions were also raised about whether Gould's notebook provided sufficient information to allow a laser to be constructed, given that Gould's team at TRG was unable to do so. Gould was able to obtain patents on the laser in several other countries, however, and he continued fighting for U.S. patents on specific laser technologies for many years afterward. A helium-neon laser, usually called a HeNe laser, is a type of small gas laser. ... An optical amplifier is a device that amplifies an optical signal directly, without the need to first convert it to an electrical signal. ... Q-switching, sometimes known as giant pulse formation, is a technique discovered circa 1962 by R.W. Hellwarth and F.J. McClung using electrically switched Kerr cell shutters and is a technique by which a laser can be made to produce a pulsed output beam. ... In telecommunications, to heterodyne is to generate new frequencies by mixing two or more signals in a nonlinear device such as a vacuum tube, transistor, or diode mixer. ... An illustration of the polarization of light which is incident on an interface at Brewsters angle. ... In electrodynamics, polarization (also spelled polarisation) is the property of electromagnetic waves, such as light, that describes the direction of their transverse electric field. ... For other uses, see Chemical reaction (disambiguation). ... Optical communication is any form of telecommunication that uses light as the transmission medium. ... This article or section does not adequately cite its references or sources. ... Year 1960 (MCMLX) was a leap year starting on Friday (link will display full calendar) of the Gregorian calendar. ... is the 81st day of the year (82nd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. ... Bell Laboratories (also known as Bell Labs and formerly known as AT&T Bell Laboratories and Bell Telephone Laboratories) was the main research and development arm of the United States Bell System. ... In the 1940s, Howard Hughes created a R&D facility in Culver City, California; by the early 1960s, it had been moved to Malibu, California. ... This article is about the defunct Westinghouse Electric Corporation founded in 1886, renamed CBS Corporation in 1997, and purchased by Viacom in 1999. ... The intensity pattern formed on a screen by diffraction from a square aperture Diffraction refers to various phenomena associated with wave propagation, such as the bending, spreading and interference of waves passing by an object or aperture that disrupts the wave. ...

In 1967, Gould left TRG and joined the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, now the Polytechnic University of New York, as a professor. While there, he proposed many new laser applications, and arranged government funding for laser research at the Institute. Polytechnic University (Brooklyn Poly, Poly, or Polytech), located in the Borough of Brooklyn in New York City, is the United States second oldest private technological university, founded in 1854. ...

Gould's first laser patent was awarded in 1968, covering an obscure application—generating X-rays using a laser. The technology was of little value, but the patent contained all the disclosures of his original 1959 application, which had previously been secret. This allowed the patent office greater leeway to reject patent applications that conflicted with Gould's pending patents.[4] Meanwhile the patent hearings, court cases, and appeals on the most significant patent applications continued, with many other inventors attempting to claim precedence for various laser technologies.

By 1970, TRG had been bought by Control Data Corporation, which had little interest in lasers and was disposing of that part of the business. Gould was able to buy back his patent rights for a thousand dollars, plus a small fraction of any future profits. Control Data Corporation, or CDC, was one of the pioneering supercomputer firms. ...

In 1973, Gould left the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn to help found Optelecom, a company in Gaithersburg, Md. that makes fiberoptic communications equipment. He later left his successful company in 1985 because it was "boring." Fiber-optic communication is a method of transmitting information from one place to another by sending light through an optical fiber. ...

Patents, and enforcement

Shortly after starting Optelecom, Gould and his lawyers changed the focus of their patent battle. Having lost many court cases on the laser itself, and running out of appeal options, they realized that many of the difficulties could be avoided by focusing instead on the optical amplifier, an essential component of any laser. The new strategy worked, and in 1977 Gould was awarded U.S. patent #4,053,845, covering optically-pumped laser amplifiers. The laser industry, by then grown to annual sales of around $400 million, rebelled at paying royalties to license the technology they had been using for years, and fought in court to avoid paying.

The industry outcry caused the patent office to stall on releasing Gould's other pending patents, leading to more appeals and amendments to the pending patents. Despite this, Gould was issued U.S. Patent 4,161,436  in 1979, covering a variety of laser applications including heating and vaporizing materials, welding, drilling, cutting, measuring distance, communication systems, television, laser photocopiers and other photochemical applications, and laser fusion. The industry responded with lawsuits seeking to avoid paying to license this patent as well. Also in 1979, Gould and his financial backers founded the company Patlex, to hold the patent rights and handle licensing and enforcement. Laser beam welding is a technique in manufacturing whereby two or more pieces of material (usually metal) are joined by together through use of a laser beam. ... A small, much-used Xerox copier in a high school library. ... Photochemistry is the study of the interaction of light and chemicals. ... In inertial confinement fusion (ICF), nuclear fusion reactions are initiated by heating and compressing a target – a pellet that most often contains deuterium and tritium – by the use of intense laser or ion beams. ...

The legal battles continued, as the laser industry sought to not only prevent the Patent Office from issuing Gould's remaining patents, but also to have the already-issued ones revoked. Gould and his company were forced to fight both in court, and in Patent Office review proceedings. According to Gould and his lawyers, the Office seemed determined to prevent Gould from obtaining any more patents, and to rescind the two that had been granted.[5]

Things finally began to change in 1985. After years of legal process, the Federal Court in Washington, DC ordered the Patent Office to issue Gould's patent on collisionally-pumped laser amplifiers. The Patent Office appealed, but was ultimately forced to issue U.S. Patent 4,704,583 , and to abandon its attempts to rescind Gould's previously-issued patents. The Brewster window patent was later issued as U.S. Patent 4,746,201 . Aerial photo (looking NW) of the Washington Monument and the White House in Washington, DC. Washington, D.C., officially the District of Columbia (also known as D.C.; Washington; the Nations Capital; the District; and, historically, the Federal City) is the capital city and administrative district of the United...

The end of the Patent Office action freed Gould's enforcement lawsuits to proceed. Finally, in 1987, Patlex won its first decisive enforcement victory, against Control Laser corporation, a manufacturer of lasers. Rather than be bankrupted by the damages and the lack of a license to the technology, the Board of Control Laser turned ownership of the company over to Patlex in a settlement deal. Other laser manufacturers and users quickly agreed to settle their cases and take out licenses from Patlex on Patlex's terms, and Gould soon became a multimillionaire. In law there are two main meanings of the word settlement. ... For other uses, see Millionaire (disambiguation). ...

The thirty year patent war that it took for Gould to win the rights to his inventions became known as one of the most important patent battles in history. In the end, Gould was issued forty-eight patents, with the optical pumping, collisional pumping, and applications patents being the most important.[6] Between them, these technologies covered most lasers used at the time. For example, the first operating laser, a ruby laser, was optically pumped; the helium-neon laser used in many bar code scanners is pumped by gas discharge. Diagram of the first ruby laser. ... A helium-neon laser, usually called a HeNe laser, is a type of small gas laser. ... A barcode reader (or barcode scanner) is a computer peripheral for reading barcodes printed on various surfaces. ... -1...

The delay — and the subsequent spread of lasers into many areas of technology — meant that the patents were much more valuable than if Gould had won initially. Even though Gould had signed away eighty percent of the proceeds in order to finance his court costs, he made millions upon millions of dollars.

"I thought that he legitimately had a right to the notion to making a laser amplifier," said William R. Bennett, who was a member of the team that built the first laser that could fire continuously. "He was able to collect royalties from other people making lasers, including me."

Later life

Controversy over who was the true inventor of the laser, fueled by Townes and Schawlow's claims, followed Gould his whole life. In 1991, Gould was elected to the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Gould said in his acceptance speech: "I think it's important to be self-critical. You have to weed out all of the aspects of an idea that aren't going to work, or reject the entire idea in favor of some new idea. You have to be encouraged to try things, even if they don't work." Exterior of the National Inventors Hall of Fame museum, 2005 The National Inventors Hall of Fame is an organization that honors important inventors from the whole world. ...

Gould died on September 16, 2005 of natural causes. He was survived by his wife of 35 years, Marilyn Appel.


  • Taylor, Nick (2000). LASER: The inventor, the Nobel laureate, and the thirty-year patent war. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-684-83515-0. 
  • Schawlow, Arthur L.; and Townes, Charles H. (December 1958). "Infrared and optical masers". Physical Review 112 (6–15): 1940–1949. DOI:10.1103/PhysRev.112.1940. 
  • Gould, R. Gordon (June 1959). "The LASER, Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation". The Ann Arbor Conference on Optical Pumping. [7]
  • Brown, Kenneth (1987). Inventors at Work: Interviews with 16 Notable American Inventors. Redmond, Wash.: Tempus Books of Microsoft Press. ISBN 1-556-15042-3. 

Arthur Leonard Schawlow Arthur Leonard Schawlow (May 5, 1921 – April 28, 1999) was an American physicist. ... A digital object identifier (or DOI) is a standard for persistently identifying a piece of intellectual property on a digital network and associating it with related data, the metadata, in a structured extensible way. ...


  1. ^ Taylor (2000), page 62
  2. ^ Taylor (2000), pages 66-70.
  3. ^ Taylor (2000), p. 159 & 173.
  4. ^ Taylor (2000), p. 180.
  5. ^ Taylor (2000), p. 237–247.
  6. ^ Taylor (2000), p. 284.
  7. ^ Gould's conference presentation and the public introduction of the term laser are mentioned in:
    Chu, Steven; and Townes, Charles (2003). "Arthur Schawlow", in ed. Edward P. Lazear,: Biographical Memoirs, vol. 83, National Academy of Sciences, p. 202. ISBN 0-309-08699-X. 

  Results from FactBites:
Gordon Gould - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (698 words)
Gordon Gould (July 17, 1920 — September 16, 2005) was an American physicist and the credited inventor of the laser.
Gordon Gould was able to trace his ancestry to the first crossing of the Mayflower on his father's side, but he took the most pride in a perhaps mythical ancestor on his mother's side, whom he claimed was a pirate named Wonny LaRue.
Gould's solution was to excite atoms or molecules through either the use of bright light or atomic-level collisions to produce a population inversion.
Union College (487 words)
Gordon Gould '41, the laser pioneer who established a professorship to honor the physics professor who sparked his interest in the physics of light, died on Sept. 16.
Gould, who coined the ubiquitous term "laser" (for "light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation"), fought a three-decade battle to secure patent rights for the invention he began in 1957 as a graduate student at Columbia University.
Gould devoted much of his career to research in optics and, in 1973, was a cofounder of an optical communications company named Optelecom, Inc., where he earned further patents before retiring in 1985.
  More results at FactBites »



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