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Joan Lisa Bromberg

Joan Lisa Bromberg directed the Laser History Project from 1982 to 1989 and is author of Fusion: Science, Politics, and the Invention of a New Energy Source, a history of the federal fusion energy program.

Titles by This Author

The laser has proved one of the most protean devices of our century. A mere thirty years after its invention, it already serves us in uses as varied as surgical instruments, "smart" bombs, printers, audio devices, telephone communication, cloth cutting, machining, and chemical research. In this book Joan Lisa Bromberg brings a historian's broad perspective to bear on the formative years of laser research in the United States. She demonstrates that, as lasers have become a means to probe the structure and changes of the physical universe, so the history of laser research constitutes a probe with which we can penetrate the structure of American science and engineering.

The laser's history has been as multifaceted as its applications. To the heterogeneity of the groups that developed it, and the sheer size of the cast, must be added the lengthy and bitter disputes that have been fought over priority and patents. Bromberg does not set out to decide who is "right"; instead she concentrates on placing the action in the context of the postwar military, commercial, and academic interests that defined it.

Starting with the maser, an innovative device for generating pure radio signals of centimeter wavelength, Bromberg describes the conceptual leap that vaulted four orders of magnitude to the laser with its pure beams of visible light. She shows how the operation of the first successful laser sent the pace of research skyrocketing in a research boom driven by a complex combination of professional rewards and institutional pressures.

The book concludes with an epilogue by three laser scientists—Arthur H. Guenther, Henry Kressel, and William Krupke—that brings the technical history up to the present.

Science, Politics, and the Invention of a New Energy Source

For more than thirty years, the prospect of unlimited fusion energy has attracted scientists and the public. Joan Lisa Bromberg's book documents the history of the American magnetic fusion reactor program. It is also a lively account that will inform interested citizens of limited technical background who are concerned with the nation's energy strategy. The book carries the story from the program's inception under the auspices of the Atomic Energy Commission in 1951 to its operations under the then-new Department of Energy in 1978.

Fusion concentrates on the four federally funded laboratories where most of the money has been spent (about $2 billion so far): Oak Ridge, Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore, and Princeton. It recounts the crucial experiments along the way - the ones that succeeded, the ones that failed, the ones that showed "promise." And it explains and diagrams the various magnetic configurations and devices that were developed and tested: the "stellarator," the "pinch," the "mirror," the "tokamak."

With the government and the public constantly looking over the scientists' shoulders, it is no surprise that research directions were heavily influenced by extrascientific pressures: "the major decisions in fusion research have always emerged from a medley of technical, institutional, and political considerations." The intermingling of science and politics is demonstrated in specific detail.

The magnetic fusion reactor project is, of course, ongoing. Latest target date for producing commercial power: 2050. Estimated total cost: $15 billion.

Dr. Bromberg has written extensively on topics in the history of modern science.