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If you like Charles Townes's story, you might also like:
Francis Collins,
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Charles Townes
Charles Townes
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Charles Townes Profile

Inventor of the Maser & Laser

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  Charles Townes

One bright spring day in 1951, Charles Townes was sitting on a park bench in Washington, D.C, when an idea occurred to him, an idea that would revolutionize life throughout the developed world.

As Director of the Radiation Laboratory at Columbia University, Townes, a pioneer of microwave radar technology, had long puzzled over how to generate a controlled, extended stream of microwave radiation from molecules. The laws of thermodynamics suggested such a thing was impossible, but in an instant, Townes imagined stimulating molecules to surrender their radiation to a continuous wave. This revelation soon led to the development of the maser (microwave amplification by stimulated emission of radiation) and the laser (light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation), a continuous beam of light, pulsing in controlled waves at a stable frequency. This unvarying light made possible countless technical advances we now take for granted. The atomic clock, the CD and DVD player, the hard drive of your computer, satellite broadcasting, measurements of sub-microscopic particles and the vast reaches of space, laser optical surgery and laser treatment for cancer are all the fruit of discoveries made by Charles Townes.

In 1964, Dr. Townes received the Nobel Prize in Physics for his revolutionary work in quantum electronics. His work in subsequent years extended to astrophysics, and he played a significant role in Project Apollo, the manned missions to the moon. He was honored not only for his scientific accomplishments, but for his advocacy of the peaceful use of atomic energy and for his efforts to reconcile the claims of science and religious faith.

This page last revised on Jan 28, 2015 10:12 EDT
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