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Charles H. Townes

Charles Townes
Townes in 2007
Born Charles Hard Townes
(1915-07-28)July 28, 1915
Greenville, South Carolina, U.S.
Died January 27, 2015(2015-01-27) (aged 99)
Oakland, California, U.S.
Residence United States
Nationality American
Fields Physics
Alma mater
Thesis Concentration of the heavy isotope of carbon and measurement of its nuclear spin (1939)
Doctoral advisor Template:If empty
Doctoral students
Known for Masers
Notable awards
Spouse Frances Brown (m. 1941–2015) (his death)

Charles Hard Townes (July 28, 1915 – January 27, 2015) was an American Nobel Prize-winning physicist[2][3] and inventor. Townes was known for his work on the theory and application of the maser, on which he got the fundamental patent, and other work in quantum electronics connected with both maser and laser devices.[4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12] He shared the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1964 with Nikolay Basov and Alexander Prokhorov.[1][13][14][15]

Early life

Townes was born in Greenville, South Carolina, the son of Ellen Sumter Townes (née Hard; 1881-1980) and Henry Keith Townes (1876-1958), an attorney.[16] He earned his B.S./B.A. at Furman University. Townes completed work for the Master of Arts degree in Physics at Duke University in 1936, and then entered graduate school at the California Institute of Technology, from where he received a Ph.D. degree in 1939.[17] During World War II he worked on radar bombing systems at Bell Labs.[1][2]


File:Charles Townes Nobel.jpg
Charles Hard Townes

Townes was appointed Professor in 1950 at Columbia University.[2] He served as Executive Director of the Columbia Radiation Laboratory from 1950 to 1952. He was Chairman of the Physics Department from 1952 to 1955.[2]

On April 26, 1951, while in Washington DC for a meeting of the Navy Millimeter Committee, he rose early and at 6 AM sat on a park bench in Washington DC's Franklin Park. While watching the azeleas in full bloom, he mused over his committee work and conceived a new way to apply the laws of physics to create intense, precise beams of coherent radiation. He coined the term maser for Microwave Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation, and when the same principle was applied to higher frequencies the term laser was used.[18] Theorists like Niels Bohr and John von Neumann doubted whether it was possible to create such a thing as a maser.[19] Nobel laureates Isidor Isaac Rabi and Polykarp Kusch received the budget for their research from the same source as Townes. Three months before the first successful experiment, they tried to stop him: "Look, you should stop the work you are doing. It isn't going to work. You know it's not going to work, we know it's not going to work. You're wasting money, Just stop!"[20]

A member of the United Church of Christ, Townes considered that "science and religion [are] quite parallel, much more similar than most people think and that in the long run, they must converge".[21]

In 1953, Townes, James P. Gordon, and H. J. Zeiger built the first ammonia maser at Columbia University.[2] 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.[2]

For his creation of the maser, Townes along with Nikolay Basov and Alexander Prokhorov received the 1964 Nobel Prize in Physics.[2]

Townes also pioneered the use of masers and lasers in astronomy, was part of a team that first discovered complex molecules in space, and determined the mass of the supermassive black hole at the centre of the Milky Way galaxy.[22][23][24][25][26]

Between 1966 and 1970, he was chairman of the NASA Science Advisory Committee for the Apollo lunar landing program.

In recent years, Townes served as a Karl Schwarzschild Lecturer in Germany and the Birla Lecturer and Schroedinger Lecturer in India.[2]

Personal life

Townes married his wife Frances H. Brown in 1941.[2] They lived in Berkeley, California.[2] They had four daughters, Linda Rosenwein, Ellen Anderson, Carla Kessler, and Holly Townes.[2]

Townes died at the age of 99 in Oakland, California, on January 27, 2015.[1][27]

Awards and honours

Townes (right) receiving the 2006 Vannevar Bush Award

Townes was widely recognized for his scientific work and leadership.

Selected publications

Townes work was published widely in books and peer-reviewed journal articles,[14] including:


  1. ^ a b c d Boyd, Robert (2015). "Charles H. Townes (1915-2015) Laser co-inventor, astrophysicist and US presidential adviser". Nature 519 (7543): 292. PMID 25788091. doi:10.1038/519292a. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Charles H. Townes — Biographical". 2006. Retrieved 2014-07-29. 
  3. ^ "Remembering Charles Townes". Furman University. 2015-01-27. Retrieved 2015-01-27. 
  4. ^ Bertolotti, Mario (2004). The History of the Laser. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-0-7503-0911-0. 
  5. ^ Bromberg, Joan (1991). The Laser in America, 1950–1970. MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-585-36732-3. 
  6. ^ Chiao, Raymond, ed. (1996). Amazing Light: A Volume Dedicated To Charles Hard Townes On His 80th Birthday. Springer. ISBN 978-0-387-94658-0. 
  7. ^ Chiao, Raymond, ed. (2005). Visions of Discovery: New Light on Physics, Cosmology, and Consciousness, A Volume Dedicated to Charles Hard Townes on his 90th Birthday. Cambridge. ISBN 978-0-521-88239-2. 
  8. ^ Haynie, Rachel (2014). First, You Explore: The Story of Young Charles Townes (Young Palmetto Books). University of South Carolina Press. ISBN 978-1-61117-343-7. 
  9. ^ Hecht, Jeff (2005). Beam: The Race to Make the Laser. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-514210-5. 
  10. ^ Hecht, Jeff (1991). Laser Pioneers. Academic Press. ISBN 978-0-12-336030-4. 
  11. ^ Taylor, Nick (2000). Laser: The Inventor, the Nobel Laureate, and the Thirty-Year Patent War. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-684-83515-0. 
  12. ^ Townes, Frances (2007). Misadventures of a Scientist's Wife. Regent Press. ISBN 978-1-58790-128-7. 
  13. ^ "Nobel laureate and laser inventor, Charles Hard Townes, dies at 99". Retrieved January 27, 2015. 
  14. ^ a b Charles H. Townes's publications indexed by the Scopus bibliographic database, a service provided by Elsevier.
  15. ^ Charles Townes — the Maser and the Laser, Office of Scientific and Technical Information, United States Department of Energy
  16. ^ "Notable South Carolinians- Dr. Charles Hard Townes | Indigo Blue". 1915-07-28. Retrieved 2013-10-22. 
  17. ^ Townes, Charles (1939). Concentration of the heavy isotope of carbon and measurement of its nuclear spin (PhD thesis). Caltech. 
  18. ^ author=Charles Townes|title="How the Maser Happened",|accessdate=1999|publisher=Oxford University Press
  19. ^ "Charles H. Townes: The Light Fantastic", BusinessWeek, August 1, 2004 
  20. ^ Heinrich Hora; Edward Teller; George Hunter Miley (1 June 2005), Edward Teller Lectures: Lasers And Inertial Fusion Energy, Imperial College Press, pp. 3–4, ISBN 978-1-86094-468-0, retrieved 27 December 2012 
  21. ^ Harvard Gazette June 16, 2005 Laser's inventor predicts meeting of science, religion
  22. ^ "Laser inventor Charles Townes dies". The Guardian. January 29, 2015. 
  23. ^ Chiao, R.; Garmire, E.; Townes, C. (1964). "Self-Trapping of Optical Beams". Physical Review Letters 13 (15): 479. doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.13.479. 
  24. ^ Schawlow, A.; Townes, C. (1958). "Infrared and Optical Masers". Physical Review 112 (6): 1940. doi:10.1103/PhysRev.112.1940. 
  25. ^ Autler, S.; Townes, C. (1955). "Stark Effect in Rapidly Varying Fields". Physical Review 100 (2): 703. doi:10.1103/PhysRev.100.703. 
  26. ^ Danchi, W. C.; Bester, M.; Degiacomi, C. G.; Greenhill, L. J.; Townes, C. H. (1994). "Characteristics of dust shells around 13 late-type stars". The Astronomical Journal 107: 1469. doi:10.1086/116960. 
  27. ^ "Charles H. Townes Dies at 99; He Envisioned the Laser, Bringing It Into Daily Life". The New York Times. 2015-01-29. Retrieved 2015-01-29. 
  28. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter T" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 7 April 2011. 
  29. ^ "Comstock Prize in Physics". National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 26 February 2014. 
  30. ^ "Richtmyer Memorial Award". American Association of Physics Teachers. Retrieved 28 January 2015. 
  31. ^ "John J. Carty Award for the Advancement of Science". National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 13 February 2011. 

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