Charles Townes | S.C. Hall of Fame


Charles H. Townes was born in Greenville, South Carolina, July 28, 1915, and grew up on a farm. Townes studied at Furman and Duke Universities, then headed west to Cal Tech.

After getting his Ph.D., Townes moved back east to work for Bell Laboratories in New Jersey. As America prepared for World War II, theoretical physics had to take a back seat to application. Townes worked on radar.

After the war, Townes became a professor at Columbia University, where his experience in radar led to the idea for the MASER, which stands for "Microwave Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation," a device that transformed microwaves into an intense, coherent stream.

There were skeptics, such as Niels Bohr, but according to Einstein (and Townes) the maser was indeed possible.

MASER technology led to the LASER, "Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation," created by manipulating the quantum state of atoms, forcing them to emit a concentrated beam of light.

In 1964, Charles Townes shared the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on maser and laser devices.

From 1966 until 1970, Townes was Chairman of NASA's Science Advisory Committee for the Apollo lunar landing program. And in 1967, he accepted a position at the University of California at Berkeley, to study astronomy.

Dr. Townes encourages public interest in scientific discovery and emphasizes the benefits. Engineering and science go hand in hand to improve society. Townes' protégées include Arno Penzias, proponent of the "Big Bang Theory." Townes is known for his views on the compatibility of science and religion. In 2005, the Templeton Prize for "Progress Toward Research or Discoveries about Spiritual Realities" was awarded to Charles Townes. He is the only person other than the Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa to win both a Templeton Prize and a Nobel Prize.

More in this Series

South Carolina Hall of Fame / G. Late 20th & Early 21st Centuries | South Carolina Hall of Fame / Science & Space Exploration

South Carolina Hall of Fame / G. Late 20th & Early 21st Centuries | South Carolina Hall of Fame / Cold War