Dr. Charles H. Townes

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    Astrophysics, University of California, Berkeley, CA

    Featured Author: Charles H. Townes


    Charles H. Townes was born in Greenville, South Carolina (28 July 1915), attending public schools until enrolling at Furman University. After graduating at age 19, meeting the requirements for a B.A. in Modern Languages and B.Sc. in Physics, he went to Duke University for an M.A. and to the California Institute of Technology for his Ph.D., received in 1939 for his research on isotope separation and nuclear spins. After eight years (1939-1947) at Bell Labs where he helped with the war effort, he joined Columbia University, becoming chairman of the Physics Department in 1952. Leaving Columbia in 1959, he joined the Institute for Defense Analyses as its Vice President and Director of Research. In 1961 we went on to become Provost of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but moved to the University of California at Berkeley in 1967, where he is now a Professor in the Graduate School.

    In 1964 Dr. Townes received a Nobel Prize in Physics for his work in the 1950s leading to the invention of the maser, the microwave-frequency precursor to the laser. Throughout his long and distinguished career he has received a treasury of awards, including 28 honorary degrees, the American National Medal of Science, membership in the French Légion d'honneur, the Niels Bohr International Gold medal, and numerous others. He is a member or fellow of professional societies worldwide, including the American National Academy of Sciences, the Russian Academy of Sciences, and the British Royal Society.

    While Townes is most well-known for his role in the development of lasers, he has also worked in the areas of nonlinear optics, radio astronomy, and infrared astronomy. His work in astronomy has led to the detection of the first complex molecules in interstellar space and to the measurement of the mass of the black hole at the center of this galaxy.

    For a more complete biography, please visit http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/1964/townes-bio.html

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