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Nikolai Basov; Soviet Nobelist Contributed to Creation of Laser

July 05, 2001|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

MOSCOW — Nikolai Basov, a physicist who shared a Nobel Prize in 1964 for his contributions to the development of lasers, has died. He was 76.

In reporting the death Monday, Russian news stories provided no other details.

Basov and fellow Soviet physicist Alexander Prokhorov each earned a fourth of the then-$53,123 Nobel Prize, with the remaining half going to Charles H. Townes, then provost of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Although the two Soviets worked separately from Townes, their quantum electronics research paralleled his.

Townes is credited with developing the first maser--a beam of tightly focused microwave radiation similar to a laser--in 1953. Basov, later director of the Soviet Science Academy's Lebedev Institute, and Prokhorov co-produced a similar device the next year.

Lasers produce intense beams of light of a single frequency and are now an integral laboratory tool and medical device, as well as a central component in compact disc players and other appliances.

When Basov earned his Nobel, possible uses for laser beams were considered unlimited in the fields of physics and eye and dental surgery, among others. Lasers were also envisioned in imaginative communications, including that between spacecraft and solar systems.

Another potential use proposed four decades ago was as military death rays, because a laser beam can be concentrated strongly enough to burn a hole through steel or destroy nuclear weapons.

The word "laser" is an acronym coined from the first letters of the term "light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation" just as maser is an acronym for "microwave amplification by stimulated emission of radiation."

Basov received Russia's Lenin Prize in 1959, the Lomonosov Gold Medal in 1989 and, in the United States, an Edward Teller medal in 1991 for his research in fusion energy.

Despite his many scientific achievements, Basov is sometimes remembered less for his physics research than for his strong political denunciation of the late physicist Andrei Sakharov, another Soviet Nobelist long exiled from Moscow over human rights activities.

After service in World War II, Basov studied at the Moscow Institute of Physical Engineers. He joined the Lebedev Physics Institute in 1953 and became its head 20 years later.

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