AMO science benefits from discovery and application in other fields as well. The investments in scientific research have led to applications that reach far beyond science per se into the diverse worlds of optical communication, manufacturing, health care, energy, and national security.
Consider the continued impact of the maser and the laser, invented over 40 years ago. The laser, which came from AMO science, was quickly embraced by the semiconductor community and has led to technologies and consumer applications that would not otherwise exist. These include the optical information storage industry, with its CDs and DVDs; the modern communication industries, with their fiber-optics-based transmission systems; and the modern printing industries, with laser printers at both the consumer and production levels. Lasers directly enable a set of industries that contributes over $300 billion to the worldwide economy.
The semiconductor processing industry, whose future has always been based on packing an increasing number of transistors and other components onto smaller and smaller chips, finds that excimer lasers based on inventions in atomic and molecular science have become the key drivers for future progress. Every single deep-ultraviolet lithography stepper (a machine that facilitates reproducing a semiconductor chip from a master) now requires an excimer laser for producing integrated circuits. New types of excimer lasers at shorter wavelengths will continue to meet the ever-more-exacting demands of the semiconductor industry, which has worldwide sales exceeding $200 billion per year.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of Americans are diagnosed with cancer or suffer from a debilitating condition. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is one in a long list of medical technologies derived from AMO research that are helping many of these individuals to realize better health and a longer life. MRI can be traced back to research done in the 1930s by Stern and Rabi. Standing on the shoulders of numerous scientists before them, these early AMO pioneers developed atomic and molecular beams to measure the magnetic properties of the proton, a particle that resides in the nucleus of every atom and molecule in our bodies. It is this magnetic property of the nucleus that made possible magnetic resonance spectroscopy in the 1940s and the magnetic imaging of the human body in the 1970s. Tissues containing fat and water have typically been the targets for MRI scans because they give large magnetic resonance signals. The most recent development in MRI technology, the incorporation of polarized rare gases, now allows imaging of organs that do not contain much water, such as the lung. It was made possible by AMO research on optical pumping, which also began in the 1940s. It is important to recognize that MRI, which has grown into a billion-dollar industry that performs several million MRI scans annually, would not have been possible without the fundamental research that is now some 70 years old.
Another example of the influence of AMO science is the impact that our understanding of the physics of atomic and molecular collisions has had on improvements in the efficiency of gas discharge