Charles Hard Townes (July 28, 1915 – January 27, 2015) was an American physicist and inventor of the maser. Townes worked on the theory and application of the maser, for which he obtained the fundamental patent, and other work in quantum electronics associated with both maser and laser devices. He shared the 1964 Nobel Prize in Physics with Nikolay Basov and Alexander Prokhorov. Townes was an adviser to the United States Government, meeting every US President from Harry Truman (1945) to Bill Clinton (1999).
He directed the US government Science and Technology Advisory Committee for the Apollo lunar landing program. After becoming a professor of the University of California at Berkeley in 1967, he began an astrophysical program that produced several important discoveries, for example, the black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy.
Townes was religious and believed that science and religion are converging to provide a greater understanding of the nature and purpose of the universe.
Townes in 2007.
Charles Hard Townes
July 28, 1915
|Died||January 27, 2015 (aged 99)|
Oakland, California, U.S.
Frances Brown (m. 1941–2015)(his death)
|Thesis||Concentration of the heavy isotope of carbon and measurement of its nuclear spin (1939)|
|Doctoral advisor||William Smythe|
Of ethnic German as well as a great deal of ethnic Scottish, English, Welsh, Huguenot French and Scotch Irish ancestry, Townes was born in Greenville, South Carolina, the son of Henry Keith Townes (1876–1958), an attorney, and Ellen Sumter Townes (née Hard; 1881–1980). He earned his B.S. in Physics and B.A. in Modern Languages at Furman University, where he graduated in 1935. Townes completed work for the Master of Arts degree in physics at Duke University during 1937, and then began graduate school at the California Institute of Technology, from which he received a Ph.D. degree in 1939. During World War II, he worked on radar bombing systems at Bell Labs.
In 1950, Townes was appointed Professor at Columbia University. 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.
|“The Man, the Myth, the Laser”, Distillations Podcast, Science History Institute|
In 1951, Townes conceived a new way to create intense, precise beams of coherent radiation, for which he invented the acronym maser (for Microwave Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation). When the same principle was applied to higher frequencies, the term laser was used (the word "light" substituting for the word "microwave").
During 1953, Townes, James P. Gordon, and H. J. Zeiger built the first ammonia maser at Columbia University. 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.
From 1959 to 1961, he was on leave of absence from Columbia University to serve as Vice President and Director of Research of the Institute for Defense Analyses in Washington, D.C., a nonprofit organization, which advised the U.S. government and was operated by eleven universities. Between 1961 and 1967, Townes served as both Provost and Professor of Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Then, during 1967, he was appointed as a Professor of Physics at the University of California at Berkeley, where he remained for almost 50 years; his status was as professor emeritus by the time of his death during 2015. Between 1966 and 1970, he was chairman of the NASA Science Advisory Committee for the Apollo lunar landing program.
For his creation of the maser, Townes along with Nikolay Basov and Alexander Prokhorov received the 1964 Nobel Prize in Physics. Townes also developed the use of masers and lasers for 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.
This information is drawn from the authoritative oral history on Charles Townes done by the Bancroft Library at the University of California at Berkeley and underwritten by the Sloan Foundation. Refer to other aspects of his life too.
When Townes failed to be promoted to President of MIT during 1967, he accepted an offer from Clark Kerr to join the University of California at Berkeley and begin an astrophysical program. Townes soon began searching for molecules in space. At the time most astronomers thought that molecules could not exist in space because ultraviolet rays would destroy them. Townes eventually discovered ammonia and water in dust clouds, which shielded them from damaging rays, by essentially doing microwave spectroscopy on the sky. This created the topic of molecular/millimeter astronomy, which continues to find many complex molecules, some the precursors to life.
The center of the Milky Way had long puzzled astronomers, and thick dust obscures the view of it in visible light. During the mid to late 1970s, Townes together with Eric Wollman, John Lacy, Thomas Geballe and Fred Baas studied Sagittarius A, the H II region at the galactic center, at infrared wavelengths. They observed ionized neon gas swirling around the center at such velocities that the mass at the very center must be approximately equal to that of 3 million suns. Such a large mass in such a small space implied that the central object (the radio source Sagittarius A*) contains a supermassive black hole. Sagittarius A* was one of the first black holes detected; its mass has been more accurately determined to be 4.3 million solar masses.
Townes' last major technological creation was the Infrared Spatial Interferometer with Walt Fitelson, Ed Wishnow and others. The project combined three mobile infrared detectors aligned by lasers that study the same star. If each telescope is 10 meters from the other, it creates an impression of a 30-meter lens. Observations of Betelgeuse, a red giant in the shoulder of the constellation Orion, found that it is increasing and decreasing in size at the rate of 1% per year, 15% over 15 years. ISI produces extremely high angular and spatial resolution. The technology is also playing an important role in the search for extraterrestrial life in collaborations with Dan Werthimer of SETI.
Townes married Frances H. Brown, an activist for the homeless, during 1941. They lived in Berkeley, California and had four daughters, Linda Rosenwein, Ellen Anderson, Carla Kessler, and Holly Townes.
A religious man and a member of the United Church of Christ, Townes believed that "science and religion [are] quite parallel, much more similar than most people think and that in the long run, they must converge". He wrote in a statement after winning the Templeton Prize during 2005: "Science tries to understand what our universe is like and how it works, including us humans. Religion is aimed at understanding the purpose and meaning of our universe, including our own lives. If the universe has a purpose or meaning, this must be reflected in its structure and functioning, and hence in science."
Townes died at the age of 99 in Oakland, California, on January 27, 2015. "He was one of the most important experimental physicists of the last century," Reinhard Genzel, a professor of physics at Berkeley, said of Townes. "His strength was his curiosity and his unshakable optimism, based on his deep Christian spirituality."
Townes' opinions concerning science and religion were expounded in his essays "The Convergence of Science and Religion", "Logic and Uncertainties in Science and Religion", and his book Making Waves. Townes felt that the beauty of nature is "obviously God-made" and that God created the universe for humans to emerge and flourish. He prayed every day and ultimately felt that religion is more important than science because it addresses the most important long-range question: the meaning and purpose of our lives. Townes' belief in the convergence of science and religion is based on claimed similarities:
Townes work was published widely in books and peer-reviewed journal articles, including:
Townes was widely recognized for his scientific work and leadership.
The Charles Hard Townes Award of The Optical Society is a prize for Quantum Electronics — that is to say, the physics of lasers. Awarded annually since 1981, it is named after the Nobel Prize-winning laser pioneer Charles H. Townes.Former winners include Nobel Prize laureates John L. Hall, Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, Serge Haroche, Arthur Ashkin, and Gérard Mourou.Comstock Prize in Physics
The Comstock Prize in Physics is awarded by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences "for recent innovative discovery or investigation in electricity, magnetism, or radiant energy, broadly interpreted." Honorees must be residents of North America. Named after Cyrus B. Comstock, it has been awarded about every five years since 1913.Earle K. Plyler Prize for Molecular Spectroscopy
The Earle K. Plyler Prize for Molecular Spectroscopy and Dynamics is a prize that has been awarded annually by the American Physical Society since 1977. The recipient is chosen for "notable contributions to the field of molecular spectroscopy and dynamics". The prize is named after Earle K. Plyler, who was a leading experimenter in the field of infrared spectroscopy; as of 2007 it is valued at $10,000. The prize is currently sponsored by the AIP Journal of Chemical Physics.Furman University
Furman University is a private liberal arts university in Greenville, South Carolina. Founded in 1826 and named for the clergyman Richard Furman, Furman University is the oldest private institution of higher learning in South Carolina. It became a secular university in 1992, while keeping Christo et Doctrinae (For Christ and Learning) as its motto. It enrolls approximately 2,700 undergraduate students and 200 graduate students, representing 46 states and 53 foreign countries, on its 750-acre (304 ha) campus.IEEE Medal of Honor
The IEEE Medal of Honor is the highest recognition of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). It has been awarded since 1917, when its first recipient was Major Edwin H. Armstrong. It is given for an exceptional contribution or an extraordinary career in the IEEE fields of interest. The award consists of a gold medal, bronze replica, certificate and honorarium. The Medal of Honor may only be awarded to an individual.
The medal was created by the Institute of Radio Engineers (IRE) as the IRE Medal of Honor. It became the IEEE Medal of Honor when IRE merged with the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (AIEE) to form the IEEE in 1963. It was decided that IRE's Medal of Honor would be presented as IEEE's highest award, while the Edison Medal would become IEEE's principal medal.
Ten persons with an exceptional career in electrical engineering received both the IEEE Edison Medal and the IEEE Medal of Honor, namely Edwin Howard Armstrong, Ernst Alexanderson, Mihajlo Pupin, Arthur E. Kennelly, Vladimir K. Zworykin, John R. Pierce, Sidney Darlington, Nick Holonyak, Robert H. Dennard, Dave Forney, and Kees Schouhamer Immink.Isaac Abella
Isaac David Abella (June 20, 1934 – October 23, 2016) was a Professor of Physics at The University of Chicago. He specialized in laser physics, quantum optics, and spectroscopy. Isaac was the cousin of Irving Abella.
Isaac Abella was born on June 20, 1934 in Toronto, Ontario. Abella received his Bachelor of Arts degree (1957) from the University of Toronto, Master of Arts (1959) degree, and Ph.D. (1963) in Physics from Columbia University in New York. He studied under Charles H. Townes and was involved in the early research work of laser development. Notably, Abella's thesis under Townes was among the earliest work on two-photon absorption.
He was married to Mary Ann Abella, Professor of Art, Chicago State University. He has a son Benjamin, and daughter, Sarah.
Abella was known for his work with laser coherent transients, where photon echo techniques are used to probe metastable excited states in rare gas mixtures such as helium, neon, and argon. These states are produced in a weakly ionized RF plasma discharge, and nitrogen-pumped dye lasers are used to generate the coherent super-position states. The University of Chicago.He was also known for his work in spectroscopy of rare-earth laser materials. Samples of YLF and YAG crystals doped with erbium, thulium, and holmium are being studied with selective laser excitation in the region of 780 nm, the erbium bands. These materials can be efficiently optically pumped by the AlGaAs-GaAs laser diode arrays, but dye laser excitation is used instead. He was interested in the energy transfer process: Er to Tm, to Ho, which concentrates energy emission at 2.085 µm at room temperature and at liquid nitrogen. The process is a radiationless, almost resonant transfer of energy between sites and depends on the relative concentrations of the rare earth ions. In particular his experimental interests are measuring decay rates, excited state absorption, and branching ratios and detailed theories of such processes.Isaac Abella died on October 23, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois, at the age of 82.Karl Schwarzschild Medal
The Karl Schwarzschild Medal, named after the astrophysicist Karl Schwarzschild, is an award presented by the Astronomische Gesellschaft (German Astronomical Society) to eminent astronomers and astrophysicists.Laser science
Laser science or laser physics is a branch of optics that describes the theory and practice of lasers.Laser science is principally concerned with quantum electronics, laser construction, optical cavity design, the physics of producing a population inversion in laser media, and the temporal evolution of the light field in the laser. It is also concerned with the physics of laser beam propagation, particularly the physics of Gaussian beams, with laser applications, and with associated fields such as nonlinear optics and quantum optics.List of Australian Nobel laureates
Since 1915 there have been sixteen Australian winners of the Nobel Prize. Half of these prizes (eight) have been awarded in the field of Physiology or Medicine Most Australians awarded Nobel prizes before the end of the awarding of British/Imperial honours (in 1992) also received (or were offered) knighthoods.
This list includes laureates who were not born in Australia, but who nevertheless spent a significant portion of their training or career there.MIT Physics Department
The Physics Department at MIT has over 120 faculty members. It offers academic programs leading to the SB, SM, PhD, and ScD degrees.
As of 2018, the department counts five Nobel Prize winners among its faculty: Samuel C.C. Ting (1976), Jerome I. Friedman (1990), Wolfgang Ketterle (2001), Frank Wilczek (2004) and Rainer Weiss (2017). A few other former faculty members have also been so honored: Clifford Shull (1994), Henry Kendall (1990), Steven Weinberg (1979) and Charles H. Townes (1964). MIT Physics alumni who have received the Nobel Prize for Physics are Adam Riess (2011), George Smoot (2006), Eric A. Cornell and Carl E. Wieman (2001), Robert B. Laughlin (1998), William D. Phillips (1997), Burton Richter (1976), John Robert Schrieffer (1972), Murray Gell-Mann (1969), Richard Feynman (1965) and William Shockley (1956).Maser
A maser (, an acronym for microwave amplification by stimulated emission of radiation) is a device that produces coherent electromagnetic waves through amplification by stimulated emission. The first maser was built by Charles H. Townes, James P. Gordon, and H. J. Zeiger at Columbia University in 1953. Townes, Nikolay Basov and Alexander Prokhorov were awarded the 1964 Nobel Prize in Physics for theoretical work leading to the maser. Masers are used as the timekeeping device in atomic clocks, and as extremely low-noise microwave amplifiers in radio telescopes and deep space spacecraft communication ground stations.
Modern masers can be designed to generate electromagnetic waves at not only microwave frequencies but also radio and infrared frequencies. For this reason Charles Townes suggested replacing "microwave" with the word "molecular" as the first word in the acronym maser.The laser works by the same principle as the maser, but produces higher frequency coherent radiation at visible wavelengths. The maser was the forerunner of the laser, inspiring theoretical work by Townes and Arthur Leonard Schawlow that led to the invention of the laser in 1960. When the coherent optical oscillator was first imagined in 1957, it was originally called the "optical maser". This was ultimately changed to laser for "Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation". Gordon Gould is credited with creating this acronym in 1957.Robert W. Boyd
Robert William Boyd (born 8 March 1948) is an American physicist noted for his work in optical physics and especially in nonlinear optics. He is currently Canada Excellence Research Chair Laureate in Quantum Nonlinear Optics at the University of Ottawa and on the Faculty at the University of Rochester.Ruby laser
A ruby laser is a solid-state laser that uses a synthetic ruby crystal as its gain medium. The first working laser was a ruby laser made by Theodore H. "Ted" Maiman at Hughes Research Laboratories on May 16, 1960.Ruby lasers produce pulses of coherent visible light at a wavelength of 694.3 nm, which is a deep red color. Typical ruby laser pulse lengths are on the order of a millisecond.Rumford Prize
Founded in 1796, the Rumford Prize, awarded by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, is one of the oldest scientific prizes in the United States. The prize recognizes contributions by scientists to the fields of heat and light. These terms are widely interpreted; awards range from discoveries in thermodynamics to improvements in the construction of steam boilers.
The award was created through the endowment of US$5,000 to the Academy by Benjamin Thompson, who held the title "Count Rumford of the United Kingdom," in 1796. The terms state that the award be given to "authors of discoverie's in any part of the Continent of America, or in any of the American islands." Although it was founded in 1796, the first prize was not given until 1839, as the academy could not find anyone who, in their judgement, deserved the award. The academy found the terms of the prize to be too restrictive, and in 1832 the Supreme Court of Massachusetts allowed the Academy to change some of the provisions; mainly, the award was to be given annually instead of biennially, and the Academy was allowed to award the prize as it saw fit, whereas before it had to give it yearly. The first award was given to Robert Hare, for his invention of the oxy-hydrogen blowpipe, in 1839. Twenty-three years elapsed before the award was given a second time, to John Ericsson.The prize is awarded whenever the academy recognizes a significant achievement in either of the two fields. Awardees receive a gold-and-silver medal. Previous prizewinners include Thomas Alva Edison, for his investigations in electric lighting; Enrico Fermi, for his studies of radiation theory and nuclear energy; and Charles H. Townes, for his development of the laser. One man, Samuel Pierpont Langley, has won both the Rumford Prize and the related Rumford Medal (the European equivalent of the Rumford Prize), both in 1886. The most recent award was given in 2019 to Ernst Bamberg, Ed Boyden, Karl Deisseroth, Peter Hegemann, Gero Miesenböck, and Georg Nagel. Previously, the award had been given to researchers outside of the United States only twice—once to John Stanley Plaskett, from British Columbia, and once to a group of Canadian scientists "for their work in the field of long-baseline interferometry."Stanley Autler
Stanley Howard Autler (March 28, 1922 – October 16, 1991) was an American physicist.
After receiving bachelor's and master's degrees from the City College of New York, he was award his Ph.D. from Columbia University. Thereafter he joined the staff of Lincoln Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he performed research on low temperature physics, solid state physics and high magnetic field superconductivity. In 1955, he and Charles H. Townes demonstrated a new dynamic Stark effect, later known as the Autler–Townes effect. This occurs when "a microwave transition can be split into two components when one of the two levels involved in the transition is coupled to a third one by a strong RF field" (Picque and Pinard 1976).Autler was a pioneer in the use of small superconducting solenoids with niobium wire, producing a 2.5 T field at a temperature of 4.2 K, then achieving 9.8 T at a temperature of 1.5 K. He became possibly the first person ever to create an application for superconductivity when he used this magnetic field for a solid state maser. This led to widespread interest in the practical uses of superconducting magnets. In 1960, he filed for a patent for a superconducting magnet, which was awarded in 1965. In 1963, he was named head of the Low Temperature Physics section at the Westinghouse Research Laboratories.He was married to his wife Kaja and the couple had a daughter Lilian who graduated from Yale University.Stuart Ballantine Medal
The Stuart Ballantine Medal was a science and engineering award presented by the Franklin Institute, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. It was named after the US inventor Stuart Ballantine.The Garin Death Ray
The Garin Death Ray also known as The Death Box and The Hyperboloid of Engineer Garin (Russian: Гиперболоид инженера Гарина) is a science fiction novel by the noted Russian author Aleksey Nikolayevich Tolstoy written in 1926–1927. Vladimir Nabokov considered it Tolstoy's finest fictional work.
The "hyperboloid" in its title is not a geometrical surface (though it is utilized in the device design) but a "death ray"-laser-like device (thought up by the author many decades before lasers were invented) that the protagonist, engineer Garin, used to fight his enemies and try to become a world dictator. The idea of a "death ray" (popularized in The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells, among others) was commonplace in science fiction of the time, but Tolstoy's version is unique for its level of technical details. "Hyperboloids" of different power capability differ in their effect. The device uses two hyperbolic mirrors to concentrate light rays in a parallel beam. Larger "hyperboloids" can destroy military ships on the horizon, and those of less power can only injure people and cut electric cables on walls of rooms.
Charles H. Townes, the inventor of laser, said that his invention had been inspired by this novel.The film adaptations of the novel were released in the Soviet Union in 1965 (The Hyperboloid of Engineer Garin) and 1973 (Failure of Engineer Garin).
The Soviet rock band Kino was originally known as Garin i giperboloydy (Russian: Гарин и Гиперболоиды, Garin and the hyperboloids).
Estonian band Vennaskond has a song "Insener Garini hüperboloid" (1993) (the hyperboloid of engineer Garin in Estonian).
Russian band Пикник (Piknik) has a song "Гиперболоид" (Hyperboloid) (2008).Theodore Harold Maiman
Theodore Harold "Ted" Maiman (July 11, 1927 – May 5, 2007) was an American engineer and physicist who was widely, but not universally, credited with the invention of the laser (Others attribute the invention to Gordon Gould). Maiman's laser led to the subsequent development of many other types of lasers. The laser was successfully fired on May 16, 1960. In a July 7, 1960 press conference in Manhattan, Maiman and his employer, Hughes Aircraft Company, announced the laser to the world. Maiman was granted a patent for his invention, and he received many awards and honors for his work. Maiman's experiences in developing the first laser and subsequent related events are described in his book, The Laser Odyssey.Vannevar Bush Award
The National Science Board established the Vannevar Bush Award ( van-NEE-vər) in 1980 to honor Vannevar Bush's unique contributions to public service. The annual award recognizes an individual who, through public service activities in science and technology, has made an outstanding "contribution toward the welfare of mankind and the Nation." The recipient of the award receives a bronze medal struck in the memory of Dr. Bush.
Vannevar Bush (1890–1974) was a prominent scientist, adviser to US presidents, and the force behind the establishment of the National Science Foundation. In 1945, at the request of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, he wrote a famous essay entitled Science, the Endless Frontier which recommended that a foundation be established by the United States Congress to serve as a focal point for the USA Federal Government's support and encouragement of research and education in science and technology as well as the development of a national science policy. The legislation creating the National Science Foundation was signed by president Harry S. Truman on May 10, 1950.
Provosts of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology