The theoretical principles governing the operation of a maser were first described by Joseph Weber of the University of Maryland, College Park at the Electron Tube Research Conference in 1952 in Ottawa, with a summary published in the June 1953 Transactions of the Institute of Radio Engineers Professional Group on Electron Devices, and simultaneously by Nikolay Basov and Alexander Prokhorov from Lebedev Institute of Physics at an All-Union Conference on Radio-Spectroscopy held by the USSR Academy of Sciences in May 1952, subsequently published in October 1954.
Independently, Charles Hard Townes, James P. Gordon, and H. J. Zeiger built the first ammonia maser at Columbia University in 1953. This device used stimulated emission in a stream of energized ammonia molecules to produce amplification of microwaves at a frequency of about 24.0 gigahertz. Townes later worked with Arthur L. Schawlow to describe the principle of the optical maser, or laser, of which Theodore H. Maiman created the first working model in 1960.
For their research in the field of stimulated emission, Townes, Basov and Prokhorov were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1964.