A laser is a device that emits light through a process of optical amplification based on the stimulated emission of electromagnetic radiation. The word "laser" is an acronym for "light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation". The first laser was built in 1960 by Theodore H. Maiman at Hughes Research Laboratories, based on theoretical work by Charles Hard Townes and Arthur Leonard Schawlow.
A laser differs from other sources of light in that it emits light which is coherent. Spatial coherence allows a laser to be focused to a tight spot, enabling applications such as laser cutting and lithography. Spatial coherence also allows a laser beam to stay narrow over great distances (collimation), enabling applications such as laser pointers and lidar (light detection and ranging). Lasers can also have high temporal coherence, which allows them to emit light with a very narrow spectrum. Alternatively, temporal coherence can be used to produce ultrashort pulses of light with a broad spectrum but durations as short as a femtosecond.
Lasers are used in optical disc drives, laser printers, barcode scanners, DNA sequencing instruments, fiber-optic and free-space optical communication, semiconducting chip manufacturing (photolithography), laser surgery and skin treatments, cutting and welding materials, military and law enforcement devices for marking targets and measuring range and speed, and in laser lighting displays for entertainment. Semiconductor lasers in the blue to near-UV have also been used in place of light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to excite fluorescence as a white light source. This permits a much smaller emitting area due to the much greater radiance of a laser and avoids the droop suffered by LEDs; such devices are already used in some car headlamps.