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article imageThe inventor of the laser has died

By Tim Sandle     Feb 3, 2015 in Science
Charles Townes, Nobel Prize-winning physicist and inventor of the laser, has passed away at age 99. He also acted as a NASA consultant on the moon landings.
It is hard to imagine a world without lasers. Lasers are used to cut and project light in a variety of ways. The invention of the laser comes down to one man: Charles Townes. For his then pioneering efforts, Towner won the 1964 Nobel Prize in Physics for his invention.
A laser is a device that emits light through a process of optical amplification through the stimulated emission of electromagnetic radiation. Laser is an acronym for "light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation".
Townes passed away at the end of January in Oakland, aged 99. Commenting on his passing, Ahmed Zewail of Caltech, who won the 1999 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for using lasers to study chemical reactions, told the Los Angeles Times that Townes was “one of the greatest physicists of the 20th century.”
Charles Townes was born in Greenville, South Carolina, in 1915. After gaining a Townes doctorate in physics from Caltech he joined Bell Laboratories in 1939. At Bell Labs, he designed radar bombing and communication systems for World War II. Post-war he left to become executive director of Columbia University’s Radiation Laboratory.
As part of a U.S. Navy effort to use microwaves to enhance communications, Townes developed the laser’s predecessor called the maser, in 1951. The maser, or “microwave amplification by stimulated emission of radiation,” used light to excite molecules in a confined space to limit their wavelengths. Later, Townes replaced the microwaves with infrared light to create the laser in 1960.
Aside from the laser, Townes was involved in a number of exciting projects. He played a scientific advisory role to the government on moon landings as well as various missile projects.
Summing up Townes’ contribution to science, Steven Boggs, chair of the University of California, Berkeley, physics department stated: “His overwhelming dedication to science and personal commitment to remaining active in research was inspirational to all of us.”
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