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Download How the Laser Happened: Adventures of a Scientist by Charles H. Townes PDF

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By Charles H. Townes

In How the Laser Happened, Nobel laureate Charles Townes offers a hugely own examine a number of the top occasions in twentieth-century physics. Townes was once inventor of the maser, of which the laser is one instance; an originator of spectroscopy utilizing microwaves; and a pioneer within the learn of gasoline clouds in galaxies and round stars. all through his profession he has additionally been deeply engaged with matters open air of educational study. He labored on utilized examine tasks for Bell Labs; served at the board of administrators for normal cars; and committed huge attempt to advising the govt on technology, coverage, and defense.

This memoir strains his multifaceted occupation from its beginnings at the relatives farm in South Carolina. Spanning many years of ground-breaking study, the booklet offers a hands-on description of ways operating scientists and inventors get their principles. It additionally supplies a behind-the-scenes examine the medical group, exhibiting how scientists reply to new rules and the way they process numerous matters, from precedence and patents to the social and political implications in their paintings. additionally, Townes touches at the sociology of technological know-how, uncovering a number of the traditions and values which are invisible to an intruder.

A towering and vigorous determine, Townes has explored or pioneered lots of the roles to be had to the fashionable scientist. as well as basic study, he used to be actively focused on the sensible makes use of of the laser and within the lawsuits to shield the patent rights. He used to be a founding member of the Jasons, an influential workforce of scientists that independently advises the govt on security coverage, and he performed an energetic half in medical judgements and rules from the Truman throughout the Reagan management. This energetic memoir, jam-packed with first-hand money owed and ancient anecdotes, is a useful source for somebody drawn to the background of technological know-how and an inspiring instance for college students contemplating clinical careers.

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I told him that Bleaney had published the first results, and I knew of them before I had published. A physicist friend told me that was unfortunate, for the Nobel Committee was considering a Nobel Prize for the field. Perhaps since I was not the clear-cut originator, and Bleaney did not pursue further extensive work, the field missed being rec­ ognized. I have always felt particularly bad about Bleaney, who has con­ tributed importantly to physics. I myself was to have another chance. I dove into study of accurate molecular structure and the spins and quadrupole moments of nuclei.

In addition, each of those lines split into a hyperfine structure that reflected various orientations of the nitrogen nucleus. Those were exciting and challenging phenomena to investigate. I was forced to study all the subtle ways that various parts of the ammonia molecule might interact, and the way it might be distorted by outside influences, thus affecting the frequen­ cies at which it absorbed microwaves. The many nuances of the molecule’s behavior provided shapes to the measured spectral lines, and a forest of such lines, all much richer in detail than I had expected to find.

Among these tactics was the use of dimensional analysis, an approach that leads one to focus on quali­ tative reasoning and on the units and quantities involved in a problem, rather than to wrestle with detailed theory. It sometimes is a quick route to a basic answer. Caltech was not large in either number of students or campus size, and it was quite informal so there was interesting and healthy interdisciplinary interaction. For example, Linus Pauling, already head of the chemistry department, sat in on Richard Tolman’s statistical mechanics course, which I was taking.

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