Townes, Charles Hard

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Townes, Charles Hard,

1915–2015, American physicist and educator, b. Greenville, S.C. He was educated at Furman Univ., Duke, and the California Institute of Technology (Ph.D., 1939), was on the technical staff of the Bell Telephone Laboratories (1939–48), where he worked on radar and navigational devices, and taught at Columbia (1948–59). After serving as vice president and director of research of the Institute for Defense Analyses, Washington, D.C., he was provost of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1961–66) and then a professor at the Univ. of California, Berkeley. Townes is known for his work on the theory and application of the masermaser
, device for creation, amplification, and transmission of an intense, highly focused beam of high-frequency radio waves. The name maser is an acronym for microwave amplification by stimulated emission of r
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, on which he obtained the fundamental patent, and other work in quantum electronics connected with both maser and laserlaser
[acronym for light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation], device for the creation, amplification, and transmission of a narrow, intense beam of coherent light. The laser is sometimes referred to as an optical maser.
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 devices. He shared the 1964 Nobel Prize in Physics with N. G. BasovBasov, Nikolai Gennadiyevich
, 1922–2001, Russian physicist and educator, b. Usman. He worked with A. M. Prokhorov to develop a technique for amplifying microwave signals in spectroscopic experiments, ultimately leading to the construction of a maser (1952).
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 and A. M. ProkhorovProkhorov, Aleksandr Mikhailovich
, 1916–2002, Russian physicist, b. Atherton, Queensland, Australia. In 1923 he was taken to the Soviet Union by his parents, who had emigrated to Australia to escape the czarist regime.
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 for contributions to this field. He also used the maser to develop an atomic clock (1955), and later (1985) he led a research team that discovered evidence for a massive black hole at the center of the Milky Way.


See his memoirs, memoirs, Making Waves (1995) and How the Laser Happened (1999).

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