Charles H. Townes#


Biographical Data

Born July 28, 1915, in Greenville, South Carolina, Dr. Townes graduated from Furman University in 1935, earning a Bachelor of Science in physics and a Bachelor of Arts in modern languages. He completed a master’s degree in physics at Duke University in 1936 and in 1939 received the Ph.D. degree in physics at the California Institute of Technology. He was a staff member of Bell Laboratories from 1939-1947, then successively Associate Professor of Physics, Professor, and Chairman of the Physics Department at Columbia University between 1948 and 1961. In 1959-1961, he was in Washington as Vice-President and Director of Research of the Institute for Defense Analysis. He was Provost and Institute Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1961-65, and University Professor at the University of California from 1967 to the present. In July, 1986, he became University Professor Emeritus, and in 1994, Professor in the Graduate School.

Dr. Townes’ principal scientific work is in microwave spectroscopy, nuclear and molecular structure, quantum electronics, radio astronomy and infrared astronomy. He holds the original patent for the maser and with Arthur Schawlow, the original laser patent. He received the Nobel Prize in 1964 “for fundamental work in quantum electronics which has led to the construction of oscillators and amplifiers based on the maser-laser principle.”

At the University of California, Townes returned to full-time research and teaching, and pursued new interests in astrophysics. His work there in radio astronomy resulted in the first detection of polyatomic molecules in interstellar clouds and the use of molecular spectra to characterize these dark clouds, now an important astronomical field. In the infrared region, he has worked primarily on high spectral and spatial resolution for astronomical observations. Much of this work has been directed towards understanding the galactic center. Since 1998, Townes has been using a pair of moveable telescopes for obtaining very high angular resolution of astronomical objects at infrared wavelengths by spatial interferometry. A third telescope for this system will soon be installed.

During much of his career, Townes has been active as a government advisor. He was a member of the President’s Science Advisory Committee from 1965 to 1969, and vice chairman of that group during the second half of his term. He was chairman of the technical advisory committee for the Apollo Program until shortly after the first successful lunar landing. More recently, he has chaired committees on Strategic Weapons and the MX missile. He has been active in the National Academy of Science’s contacts with China, its work on Arms Control, and its meetings with representatives of the Soviet Academy; he has also had an active role in helping to formulate advice given by the Papal Academy to the Pope on issues of peace and the control of nuclear weapons. From January to December 1967, Townes served as the president of the American Physical Society.

In addition to the Nobel Prize, Dr. Townes received the 1982 National Medal of Science. Townes is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the Royal Society of London, the Max Planck Society, the National Inventors Hall of Fame, and the Engineering and Science Hall of Fame. He has received the Stuart Ballantine Medal of the Franklin Institute. Other awards include the Rumford Premium of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the C.E.K. Mees Medal of the Optical Society of America, the Medal of Honor of the Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the Plyler Prize of the American Physical Society, NASA’s Distinguished Public Service Medal, and the Berkeley Citation. Among Dr. Townes’ international awards are the Thomas Young Medal and Prize of the Institute of Physics and the Physical Society (England), the Wilhelm Exner Award (Austria), the 1979 Niels Bohr International Gold Medal, the Lomonosov Medal of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Rabindranath Tagore Award of India, the Karl Schwarzschild Medal of German-speaking countries the 2001 SPIE Award, and the 2005 Templeton Prize and the 2006 Vannevar Bush medal. He also has twenty-nine honorary degrees.

Charles H. Townes - Curriculum Vitae

Date of Birth: July 28, 1915
Place of Birth: Greenville, South Carolina
Business Address: University of California, Department of Physics - M/C 7300, Berkeley, CA 94720-7300
Education: Furman University, B.A. and B.S., 1935, Duke University, M.A., 1937, California Institute of Technology, Ph.D., 1939

Professional History

  • Assistant in Physics, California Institute of Technology 1937-39
  • Member of the Technical Staff, Bell Telephone Laboratories 1939-47
  • Associate Professor of Physics, Columbia University 1948-50
  • Professor of Physics, Columbia University 1950-61
  • Executive Director, Columbia Radiation Laboratory 1950-52
  • Chairman, Department of Physics, Columbia University 1952-55
  • Vice President and Director of Research, Institute for Defense Analyses 1959-61
  • Provost and Professor of Physics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology 1961-66
  • Institute Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology 1966-67
  • University Professor of Physics, University of California at Berkeley 1967-86
  • Professor of Physics, Emeritus, University of California at Berkeley 1986-94
  • Professor in the Graduate School, University of California at Berkeley 1994-

  • Adams Fellow, Columbia University 1950
  • National Lecturer, Sigma Xi 1950-51
  • Summer Lecturer, University of Michigan 1952
  • Lecturer, Enrico Fermi International School of Physics 1955, 1960
  • Guggenheim Fellow 1955-56
  • Fulbright Lecturer, University of Paris 1955-56
  • Fulbright Lecturer, University of Tokyo 1956
  • Richtmeyer Lecturer, The American Physical Society 1959
  • Director, Enrico Fermi International School of Physics 1963
  • Scott Lecturer, University of Cambridge 1963
  • Centennial Lecturer, University of Toronto 1967
  • The Stanley H. Klosk Visiting Lectureship, New York University 1967
  • Visiting Cullum Scholar, Augusta College 1968
  • Jansky Lecturer, National Radio Astronomy Observatory 1971
  • Remsen Memorial Lecturer, Johns Hopkins University 1972
  • Lincoln Lecturer, Board of Foreign Scholarship 1972-73
  • Halley Lecturer, Oxford University 1976
  • Harry Welsh Lecturer, University of Toronto 1977
  • Leonard I. Schiff Memorial Lecturer, Stanford University 1982
  • Michelson Memorial Lecturer, U.S. Naval Academy 1982
  • R.M. Petrie Lecturer, Canadian Astronomical Society, Toronto 1985
  • Faculty Research Lecturer, University of California, Berkeley 1985-86
  • Beckman Lecturer, University of Illinois 1986
  • Schultz Lecturer, Yale University 1987
  • Fulbright Fellow Lecturer, College de France and École Normal Supérieure 1987
  • Darwin Lecture Series Lecturer, Darwin College, Cambridge University 1988
  • Marlar Lecturer, University of California, San Diego 1988
  • W.V. Houston Memorial Lecturer, Rice University, Houston 1990
  • Van Vleck Lectureship, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis 1990
  • K.S. Krishnan Memorial Lecture, National Physical Laboratory, India 1992
  • Golden Jubilee Lecture, C.S.I.R., India 1992
  • Nishina Lecturer, Tokyo, Japan 1992
  • Rajiv Gandhi Lecture, New Delhi, India 1997
  • Weinberg Lecture, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Tennessee 1997
  • Henry Norris Russell Lectureship, American Astronomical Society 1998
  • Frank Annunzio Award, Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation 1999
  • Rabindranath Tagore Birth Centenary Plaque, Asiatic Society 1999
  • Karl Schwarzschild Medal 2002
  • Frank Drake Award, SETI Institute 2002
  • Trotter Prize, Texas A&M University College of Science 2002
  • Templeton Prize 2005
  • Vannevar Bush Medal 2006

Honorary Degrees

29 Honorary Degrees from various institutions

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