A stationary, electronically excited, population inversion of atomic hydrogen, H, has been observed in a low-pressure water-vapor microwave discharge plasma. The inverted H population was evident from the relative intensities of the transitions within the Lyman series (n=2, 3, 4, and 5 to n=1) and within the Balmer series (n=3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 to n=2). Back illumination with a broadband (vis/IR) lamp source showed depopulation of the n=5 state. Lines of the Balmer series of n=5, and 6 to n=2 and the Paschen series of n=5 to n=3 were of particular importance because of the potential to design blue and 1.3 μm infrared lasers, respectively, which are ideal for many communications and microelectronics applications. High-power hydrogen gas lasers are anticipated at wavelengths over a broad spectral range from far infrared to violet which may be miniaturized to micron dimensions. Such a hydrogen laser may prove to be the most versatile and useful of all. © 2003 American Institute of Physics.