Spectral singularities are certain points of the continuous spectrum of generic complex scattering potentials. We review the recent developments leading to the discovery of their physical meaning, consequences, and generalizations. In particular, we give a simple definition of spectral singularities, provide a general introduction to spectral consequences of PT-symmetry (clarifying some of the controversies surrounding this subject), outline the main ideas and constructions used in the pseudo-Hermitian representation of quantum mechanics, and discuss how spectral singularities entered in the physics literature as obstructions to these constructions. We then review the transfer matrix formulation of scattering theory and the application of complex scattering potentials in optics. These allow us to elucidate the physical content of spectral singularities and describe their optical realizations. Finally, we survey some of the most important results obtained in the subject, drawing special attention to the remarkable fact that the condition of the existence of linear and nonlinear optical spectral singularities yield simple mathematical derivations of some of the basic results of laser physics, namely the laser threshold condition and the linear dependence of the laser output intensity on the gain coefficient.
Quantum Physics (quant-ph); Mathematical Physics (math-ph); Optics (physics.optics)