Lasers are everywhere. They scan our groceries, fix our vision, level our crookedly hung paintings, cut metal, blast Imperial stormtroopers, bedazzle us at concerts, and do roughly a bazillion other things.
It was 60 years ago this week that a young Columbia University grad student named Gordon Gould jotted some sketches in his notebook of a proposed light-emitting device, then had his sketches notarized at a candy store in the Bronx.
Gould could not have anticipated the full significance of what he had sketched: a machine for light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation (a mouthful that he shortened with the handy acronym LASER).
The theoretical and experimental research that followed led to one of the most significant, and eventually useful, advances in the history of physics.