What Does it Mean? The Answers Behind Those Acronyms
Friday, March 13, 2015

You may have just gotten down LOL and SMH, but now there are some other acronyms to learn. No, these acronyms won’t make it easier to text people from your phone, but rather, help you learn more about certain fields of science. Ranging from physics to detection technology to automation, many scientific terms have been shortened over the years. Words and phrases that you may hear in a normal conversation have a deeper meaning than you think.  

·   Laser
Starting off with one of the most commonly known acronyms that many might not know is actually an acronym is laser. While credit for this invention is argued to be credited to both Gordon Gould and Theodore Maiman, the device has made life easier for many. Lasers are used in everyday applications including laser printers, barcode scanners and Blu-ray players. But what does it stand for? Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. Lasers emit light, but it isn’t always visible light; there are infrared, X-ray and ultraviolet lasers as well. Though there is the whole spectrum of colors that are used as the lights of lasers, each laser can only produce one color. As lasers produce light coherently, this allows the light energy produced by the device to be focused in a tight beam. A tight, focused beam means lasers can used, among other ways, to cut through objects precisely and without raw edges. While this scientific breakthrough uses light, its predecessor uses something different.

·   Maser
This word you probably didn’t learn about in elementary school science class. But the first use of this acronym can be traced back to the 1950s when various scientists were independently developing an “optical maser.” What was once known as the “optical maser” is what we now call the laser. But as these two technological advancements became separate entities, they each received different (yet similar) acronyms. While you may be able to guess its significance, here’s the definition of maser: Microwave Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. This device produces electromagnetic waves coherently (instead of light). Though masers aren’t necessarily used when you’re watching a movie at home, they are used as references to frequencies. These devices have helped complete tasks across a broad range scientific fields: masers are used in one form of the atomic clock; they are used to amplify sounds from satellites that are too faint to hear; masers are also the reason scientists were able to measure the faint radio waves emitted by the planet Venus. Masers can be comprised of different components. Hydrogen, ammonia, rubidium and ruby masers are a few of the many common types of masers in use today. As this device has evolved greatly since the 1950s, some suggest that its acronym should be changed to molecular amplification by stimulated emission of radiation as the frequencies the maser now uses extend beyond that of microwaves.

·   Radar
Similar to laser, this is a word that many may use without realizing it is actually an acronym. Radar is a system that uses reflected radio waves to determine many factors of objects. These factors include range, speed, altitude and direction. While the most common application that comes to mind when thinking of radar is what you see during the daily weather update, it is used in other instances as well. Submarines use radar to detect geological formations; planes and ships use them to detect if other vehicles are encroaching on them; airports use radar to track air traffic; police use radar guns to detect if you’re speeding down I-71. So what does this detection system stand for? RAdio Detection And Ranging. Like the laser, this acronym has become so common as a word it is not frequently capitalized.

Next time you pop in a movie to your Blu-ray player, check the time on an atomic clock or watch the local weather update, not only will you know what all of these devices use to operate, but you’ll be able to impress those constantly texting teens with your acronym knowledge. Just don’t expect these acronyms to catch on in text-speak any time soon.

Can’t get enough of scientific acronyms? Tune in for the next installment on even more acronyms you may not have been aware of!

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