The Man, the Myth, the Laser

The disputed origin story of one of the 20th century’s most important inventions.

They’re at the grocery checkout. They kill cancer cells. They’re in pointers that drive cats crazy and in the fiber networks that connect us to the internet. Lasers are so ubiquitous it’s hard to imagine a world without them. So you’d think we would know who the inventor was, right? Turns out it’s not so easy. There’s the guy who wrote down the initial idea, two other guys who got a patent for it, and then another guy who actually built the first laser. We spoke to Nick Taylor, author of Laser: The Inventor, the Noble Laureate, and the Thirty-Year Patent War about this story and what it tells us about how inventions happen.

 

Credits

Hosts: Alexis Pedrick and Elizabeth Berry Drago
Senior ProducerMariel Carr
Producer and ReporterRigoberto Hernandez
Audio Engineer: Catherine Girardeau

For this episode we relied heavily on the book, Laser: the Inventor, the Nobel Laureate, and the Thirty-Year Patent War, by Nick Taylor. We used excerpts from an 1962 archival film by AT&T titled, The Conquest of Light. We used excerpts from oral histories with Gordon Gould and Charles Townes from the American Institute of Physics. They also generously provided tape of interviews with Gordon Gould conducted by journalist Jeff Hecht in 1983 and 1984. 

Music

Our theme music was composed by Zach Young. 

Additional music courtesy of the Audio Network