Albert Einstein had a knack for unlocking the secrets of the universe and as an astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson is undoubtedly familiar with the most complex, bizarre, and illuminating of Einstein's equations. But one equation stands out above the rest for the famed director of the Hayden Planetarium and host of the wildly popular television series "Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey."
"My favorite equation of Einstein's is when he derived the stimulated emission of radiation," deGrasse Tyson said during the annual Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate in 2012. "We study that in astrophysics and that's the equation that enables the construction of lasers."
Each year, the American Museum of Natural History — in memory of American author Isaac Asimov — brings together some of the world's greatest minds, which in 2012 included Nobel laureate Sheldon Glashow, to discuss a complex scientific topic.
During the Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate in 2012, which discussed whether certain particles can travel faster than light, the esteemed guests addressed some of Einstein's most fundamental equations including the Special and General Theories of Relativity.
Since they were on the topic of equations, deGrasse Tyson shared his favorite equation of Einstein's — an equation that today supports a multi-billion dollar industry involving barcode scanners, laser eye surgery, and DVD electronics.
The word "laser" began as an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. Stimulated emission is a special way in which atoms can make identical particles of light that Einstein first predicted in 1917. But it wasn't until the the late '50s when physicists actually built the first lasers.
Below is a schematic of how stimulated emission works. It starts when a particle of light called a photon interacts with an excited electron (the green dot). As a result of this interaction, the electron loses energy, shown in the middle portion of this diagram, and in-so-doing the electron emits another photon identical to the first photon:
DeGrasse Tyson uses this example during the debate to emphasize the importance of "basic research" that might not necessarily have any immediate application but could set the stage for future, fundamental technology.
Check out the full debate in the video below:
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