Charles Hard Townes, Scientist Who Founded Laser Technology

The American physicist, Charles Hard Townes, was credited with establishing the basic theory that led to the creation of a device called the laser. Townes grew up in Greenville, South Carolina, in the family of a well-known lawyer in his town.

Townes studied at Furman University, pursuing two degrees in physics and modern languages. Since childhood, Townes is known as a child genius. He proved this with a summa cum laude degree for two undergraduate fields at the age of 19. In 1939, he received his Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology Laser marking on metals.

During World War II, Townes spent his time working on radar systems for Bell Laboratories. In 1950, he became a research scientist at Columbia University, where he completed the most important discovery of his career.

Thanks to his radar research, Townes realized that devices capable of producing high-intensity microwaves were becoming increasingly needed in everyday life. However, unfortunately there is no electronic circuit capable of creating these waves.

Previous scientists have actually discovered that ammonia gas is capable of releasing energy waves when it encounters heat or electricity. A small beam of microwaves directed through the ammonia gas will stimulate the gas molecules to release energy at the same time.

In December 1953, Townes and several of his students built a device using the principle of the ammonia molecule, which became known as MASER ( Microwave Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation ).

Townes’s device was able to amplify very weak radio signals. Even signals from spacecraft can be received and understood easily.

In 1958, Townes and his brother, Arthur Leonard Schawlow, succeeded in creating the MASER whose light can be seen with the naked eye, which became known as the laser. 

Two years later, Stanford University physicist, Theodore Harold Maiman, built a laser that was generated from ruby ​​sticks. In principle, after light is pumped into the ruby ​​rod, the laser light will appear in strong parallel bonds, with waves of the same frequency.

The higher the frequency concentration, laser light waves are able to carry a hundred thousand times more information and are more accurate than microwaves. So it is not surprising that the discovery of laser waves became very important for technological developments in the post-Townes era.

In 1961, Townes moved to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to pursue more advanced laser research. In 1964, he received the Nobel Prize in physics for his work which led to the development of maser and laser technology.

In 1967, Townes headed a development program for radio and infrared astronomy initiated by the University of California at Barkeley. In 1986, Townes decided to retire from his job as a scientist.