Charles Hard Townes (1915 – 2015)

  • Author: ChemViews
  • Published Date: 29 January 2015
  • Copyright: Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim
thumbnail image: Charles Hard Townes (1915 – 2015)

Charles H. Townes, inventor of the maser and co-inventor of the laser, has passed away on January 27, aged 99.

Charles Hard Townes, born July 28, 1915, in Greenville, SC, USA, studied physics at Furman University, Greenville, and at Duke University, Durham, NC, USA. He received his Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), Pasadena, CA, USA, in 1939. Townes held positions in the physics department at Columbia University, New York, USA, from 1948 to 1961, was Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, MA, USA, from 1961 to 1967, and Professor at the University of California Berkeley, CA, USA, from 1967 to 2015.

Townes' research on microwave physics, particularly studying the interactions between microwaves and molecules, led first to the maser in 1954, and then to the laser, on which the seminal paper was published in 1958. His other research has been in the fields of nonlinear optics, radio astronomy, and infrared astronomy. He was, for example, involved in the first discovery of complex molecules in space and the determination of the mass of the supermassive black hole at the centre of the Milky Way galaxy.

Townes received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1964 "for fundamental work in the field of quantum electronics, which has led to the construction of oscillators and amplifiers based on the maser-laser principle". In addition to the Nobel Prize, he has received the Templeton Prize, for contributions to the understanding of religion, and numerous other prizes, as well as a large number of honorary degrees from various universities.

Selected Publications


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