Charles Townes

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In existographies, Charles Townes (40 BE-60 AE) (1915-2015 ACM) (IQ:165|#600) (Becker 160:148|2L) (LH:2) was an American physicist, noted for his 1950s work on the development of the maser, the forerunner to the laser (Maiman, 1960)


In 1940s, Townes ruminated on Einstein’s 1917 proposal that the right wavelength of light can stimulate an excited atom to emit light of the same wavelength, in respect to how to corral a gas of excited atoms without them flying apart.

In 1951, Townes, while sitting on a park bench in Washington, DC, was struck by the thought that molecules might be made to vibrate a certain way and to release a certain type of stimulated microwave radiation; his revelatory solution allowed him to separate excited from non-excited molecules and store them in a resonant cavity, so that when a microwave traveled through the gas, the molecules were stimulated to emit microwaves in step with one another: a coherent burst.

in 1954, he and his students built such a device using ammonia gas and dubbed it a “maser”, for microwave amplification by stimulated emission of radiation.[1] First prototype ammonia maser is shown below, where the ammonia nozzle is at left in the box, the four brass rods at center are the quadrupole state selector, and the resonant cavity is at right. The 24 GHz microwaves exit through the vertical waveguide Townes is adjusting. At bottom are the vacuum pumps.

In 1958, Townes, together with Arthur Schawlow, his brother-in-law, conceived the idea of doing the same thing with optical light, but using mirrors at the ends of a gas tube to amplify the light to get an “optical maser”, and published a paper on this. Schawlow's central insight, which Townes overlooked, was the use of two mirrors as the resonant cavity to take maser action from microwaves to visible wavelengths.


In 1960, Theodore Maiman, after completing his PhD in experimental physics, involving detailed microwave-optical measurements of fine structural splittings in excited helium atoms, under Willis Lamb (1913-2008), eponym of “Lamb shift” (Ѻ), and working for three years (1956 to 1958) on the “Ruby Maser Redesign Project” for the US Army, and after reading the Schawlow-Townes paper (1958) on masers, he built and demonstrated the world’s first “laser”, using a synthetic pink ruby crystal as the lasing medium and a helical xenon flash lamp as the excitation source:


In 1966, Townes, two years after winning the Nobel Prize, began to promote religion-science-spirituality compatibility views, such as found in his essays: "The Convergence of Science and Religion", "Logic and Uncertainties in Science and Religion", which are collected in his 1995 book Making Waves.


Quotes | By

The following are quotes by Townes:

“Science, with its experiments and logic, tries to understand the order or structure of the universe. Religion, with its theological inspiration and reflection, tries to understand the purpose or meaning of the universe. These two are cross-related. Purpose implies structure, and structure ought somehow to be interpretable in terms of purpose.”
— Charles Townes (c.1964), Publication[2]


  1. Sanders, Robert. (2015). “Nobel Laureate and Laser Inventor Charles Townes Dies at 99” (Ѻ), Berkeley News, Jan 27.
  2. Charles Townes Quotes –

External links

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