Charles H. Townes
1993 Common Wealth Award for Science and Invention
Charles H. Townes is University Professor of Physics Emeritus at the University of California at Berkeley. He has taught at Columbia University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he was provost. He is also former vice president and director of the Columbia Radiation Laboratory and a former technical staff member at Bell Telephone Laboratories. In five and a half decades of work, Townes accomplishments range from helping ease the strain of everyday life to studying the origin of the universe. He conceived the laser, which today plays a vital role in surgery, communications and electronic banking. He also invented the maser, an earlier laser-like device that amplifies microwaves. He won the Nobel Prize for physics in 1964 for his contribution to these two scientific breakthroughs. Microwave spectroscopy, nuclear and molecular structure, quantum electronics and radio and infrared astronomy represent areas of his principal scientific work. New infrared techniques, discovery of stable molecules in galactic clouds and discovery of evidence for a large black hole in the center of our galaxy resulted from his work in astrophysics.