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Charles Hard Townes (Greenville, South Carolina, July 28, 1915 – Oakland, California, January 27, 2015) was an American physicist and professor, laureate of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1964. Townes was known for his work on laser theory and applications.
Townes studied at Furman University, Duke, and received his doctorate in physics from the California Institute of Technology in 1939. He worked on the Bell Telephone Laboratories’ technical team during World War II, developing radar systems that worked well in the humid conditions of the Pacific. He was appointed associate professor of physics at Columbia University in 1948, professor of physics in 1950, and head of the department of physics from 1952 to 1955.
After serving as vice president and research director of the Defense Analysis Institute in Washington from 1959 to 1961, he became president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1961.
He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1964, “for his fundamental work in the field of quantum electrons, which led to the construction of oscillators and amplifiers based on the maser-laser principle.”
He was appointed Professor at the University of California, Berkeley in 1967. His book, How the Laser Happened: Adventures of a Scientist, was published by Oxford University Press in 1999.
In his later years, Townes was a champion of optics in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, using methods he first proposed in 1961 as a complement to searches for radio transmissions from distant solar systems. His latest work used lasers to help combine images from distant telescopes.
In 2005 he received the Templeton Prize.
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