Charles H. Townes Biography


Birthday: July 28, 1915 (Leo)

Born In: Greenville, South Carolina, United States

Charles Hard Townes was an American physicist and inventor. He was jointly awarded a Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on the theory and application of the maser and other research in quantum electronics linked with maser devices. This is one of the most crucial discoveries in modern experimental research and was later instrumental in the development of laser. During the World War II he worked extensively on radar bombing and systems design, and also carried out some initial research in radio astronomy. It was after the war that Townes made his most important contributions in the improvement of high-resolution spectroscopy of gasses in the microwave region of the electromagnetic spectrum. He was part of a team that first discovered complex molecules in space and ascertained the mass of the black hole at the Milky Way galaxy. Apart from science, he was also interested in natural history. He as recipient of a number of awards such as the Richtmyer Memorial Award, Stuart Ballantine Medal, Wilhelm Exner Medal, SPIE Gold Medal and the Golden Goose Award. Charles Hard Townes was a deeply religious man and a member of the United Church of Christ. His curiosity and strong optimism based on Christian spiritual doctrines provided him the strength to carry out some of the significant experimental work in Physics.
Quick Facts

Also Known As: Charles Hard Townes

Died At Age: 99


Spouse/Ex-: Frances H. Brown

father: Henry Keith Townes

mother: Ellen Hard

children: Carla Townes, Ellen Townes, Holly Townes, Linda Townes

Physicists American Men

Died on: January 27, 2015

place of death: Oakland, California, United States

U.S. State: South Carolina

Grouping of People: Nobel Laureates in Physics

Notable Alumni: Caltech

discoveries/inventions: Laser, Maser

More Facts

education: Furman University, Duke University, Caltech

awards: Comstock Prize in Physics (1958)
John J. Carty Award (1961)
Stuart Ballantine Medal (1962)

Young Medal and Prize (1963)
Nobel Prize in Physics (1964)
IEEE Medal of Honor (1967)
For Mem RS (1976)
National Medal of Science (1982)
Lomonosov Gold Medal (2000)
Vannevar Bush Award (2006)
SPIE Gold Medal (2010)
Golden Goose Award (2012)

Childhood & Early Life
Charles Hard Townes was born on July 28 1915 , in Greenville, South Carolina. He was the son of Ellen Sumter Townes and Henry Keith Townes, an attorney.
He attended the Greenville Public Schools and graduated from the Furman University in 1935 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Physics and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Modern Languages.
In 1937, Townes received his Master of Arts degree in Physics at Duke University.
In 1939, he earned his doctorate from the California Institute of Technology where he worked on isotope separation and nuclear spins.
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In 1939 Townes started his career as a technical staff in Bell Telephone Laboratories, Inc.
In 1950, Townes was appointed a professor at Columbia University.
From 1950 to 1952, he served as executive director of the Columbia Radiation Laboratory and from 1952 to 1955, as the chairman of the physics department.
In 1951 Charles Hard Townes developed a new way to create beams of coherent radiation or the Microwave Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation (Maser).
In December 1953, Townes, James P. Gordon, and H. J. Zeiger built the first ammonia maser at Columbia University to produce amplification of microwaves at a frequency of 24.0 gigahertz.
In 1955, he published ‘Microwave Spectroscopy’ co-authored with A. L. Schawlow.
In 1958 Townes and physicist A.L. Schawlow developed the technology of maser to produce extremely concentrated beams of light, which they termed ‘laser’. They were given patents on laser in 1960.
From 1959 to 1961, he served as the Vice President and Director of Research of the Institute for Defense Analyses in Washington, D.C where he worked with issues concerning national defense and foreign policy.
From 1961 to 1967 Townes was engaged as both Provost and Professor of Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
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In 1967, he was appointed as a Professor of Physics at the University of California, Berkeley, where he earned the status of professor emeritus in 2015.
From 1966 to 1970, Townes was the chairman of the NASA Science Advisory Committee for the Apollo lunar landing program.
In 1983 he was appointed to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and in 1994 he was elected as the Foreign Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
In 1995, he published his book ‘Making Waves (Masters of Modern Physics)’.
Major Works
Townes discovered a way to produce a self-excited oscillator that would amplify signals through the use of stimulated emission. This device is known as Microwave Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation or ‘Maser’ in short. It is operated on ammonia gas and is useful in the experiments carried on a quantum level. This device is also used in long-distance radar, microwave communications and radio astronomy.
During his term as professor at the University of California, he initiated a program of radio and infrared astronomy that lead to the discovery of complex molecules in the interstellar medium.
Awards & Achievements
In 1964 Townes was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his research in quantum electronics that led to the development of the maser. He shared the award with two Russian scientists, N. G. Basov and Aleksandr Prokhorov who had independently worked to invent similar devices.
Apart from this, Townes received several awards such as the Comstock Prize in Physics from the National Academy of Science (1958), the Richtmyer Memorial Award from the American Association of Physics Teachers (1959), the David Sarnoff Electronics Award by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and the Rumford Prize by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1961), the National Medal of Science (1982), Templeton Prize (2005), Nancy DeLoye Fitzroy and Roland V. Fitzroy Medal from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (2012).
On 24 May 2008 Townes received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from the University of Redlands and on 14 May 2011 an Honorary Doctorate of Science from Texas A&M University.
Personal Life & Legacy
Townes married a homeless activist, Frances H. Brown in 1941. The couple lived in Berkeley, California and had four daughters, Linda Rosenwein, Ellen Anderson, Carla Kessler, and Holly Townes.
On January 27, 2015, he died at the age of 99 in Oakland, California.
In 1951 while waiting for a restaurant to open, the breakthrough idea for his maser first struck Townes and he outlined the plans on the back of an envelope.

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