He directed the US government Science and Technology Advisory Committee for the Apollo lunar landing program. After becoming a professor of the University of California at Berkeley in 1967, he began an astrophysical program that produced several important discoveries, for example, the black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy.
Townes was religious and believed that science and religion are converging to provide a greater understanding of the nature and purpose of the universe.
In 1950, Townes was appointed Professor at Columbia University. He served as Executive Director of the Columbia Radiation Laboratory from 1950 to 1952. He was Chairman of the Physics Department from 1952 to 1955.
In 1951, Townes conceived a new way to create intense, precise beams of coherent radiation, for which he invented the acronym maser (for Microwave Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation). When the same principle was applied to higher frequencies, the term laser was used (the word "light" substituting for the word "microwave").
From 1959 to 1961, he was on leave of absence from Columbia University to serve as Vice President and Director of Research of the Institute for Defense Analyses in Washington, D.C., a nonprofit organization, which advised the U.S. government and was operated by eleven universities. Between 1961 and 1967, Townes served as both Provost and Professor of Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Then, during 1967, he was appointed as a Professor of Physics at the University of California at Berkeley, where he remained for almost 50 years; his status was as professor emeritus by the time of his death during 2015. Between 1966 and 1970, he was chairman of the NASA Science Advisory Committee for the Apollo lunar landing program.
The center of the Milky Way had long puzzled astronomers, and thick dust obscures the view of it in visible light. During the mid to late 1970s, Townes together with Eric Wollman, John Lacy, Thomas Geballe and Fred Baas studied Sagittarius A, the H II region at the galactic center, at infrared wavelengths. They observed ionized neon gas swirling around the center at such velocities that the mass at the very center must be approximately equal to that of 3 million suns. Such a large mass in such a small space implied that the central object (the radio source Sagittarius A*) contains a supermassive black hole. Sagittarius A* was one of the first black holes detected; its mass has been more accurately determined to be 4.3 million solar masses.
Shapes and sizes of stars
Townes' last major technological creation was the Infrared Spatial Interferometer with Walt Fitelson, Ed Wishnow and others. The project combined three mobile infrared detectors aligned by lasers that study the same star. If each telescope is 10 meters from the other, it creates an impression of a 30-meter lens. Observations of Betelgeuse, a red giant in the shoulder of the constellation Orion, found that it is increasing and decreasing in size at the rate of 1% per year, 15% over 15 years. ISI produces extremely high angular and spatial resolution. The technology is also playing an important role in the search for extraterrestrial life in collaborations with Dan Werthimer of Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI).
Personal life and legacy
Daughters of Townes in Sweden in 1964
Townes married Frances H. Brown, an activist for the homeless, during 1941. They lived in Berkeley, California and had four daughters, Linda Rosenwein, Ellen Anderson, Carla Kessler, and Holly Townes.
A religious man and a member of the United Church of Christ, Townes believed that "science and religion [are] quite parallel, much more similar than most people think and that in the long run, they must converge". He wrote in a statement after winning the Templeton Prize during 2005: "Science tries to understand what our universe is like and how it works, including us humans. Religion is aimed at understanding the purpose and meaning of our universe, including our own lives. If the universe has a purpose or meaning, this must be reflected in its structure and functioning, and hence in science."
Townes died at the age of 99 in Oakland, California, on January 27, 2015. "He was one of the most important experimental physicists of the last century," Reinhard Genzel, a professor of physics at Berkeley, said of Townes. "His strength was his curiosity and his unshakable optimism, based on his deep Christian spirituality."
Science and religion
Townes' opinions concerning science and religion were expounded in his essays "The Convergence of Science and Religion", "Logic and Uncertainties in Science and Religion", and his book Making Waves. Townes felt that the beauty of nature is "obviously God-made" and that God created the universe for humans to emerge and flourish. He prayed every day and ultimately felt that religion is more important than science because it addresses the most important long-range question: the meaning and purpose of our lives. Townes' belief in the convergence of science and religion is based on claimed similarities:
Faith. Townes argued that the scientist has faith much like a religious person does, allowing him/her to work for years for an uncertain result.
Revelation. Townes claimed that many important scientific discoveries, like his invention of the maser/laser, occurred as a "flash" much more akin to religious revelation than interpreting data.
Proof. During this century the mathematician Godel discovered there can be no absolute proof in a scientific sense. Every proof requires a set of assumptions, and there is no way to check if those assumptions are self-consistent because other assumptions would be required.
Uncertainty. Townes believed that we should be open-minded to a better understanding of science and religion in the future. This will require us to modify our theories, but not abandon them. For example, at the start of the 20th century physics was largely deterministic. But when scientists began studying the quantum mechanics they realized that indeterminism and chance play a role in our universe. Both classical physics and quantum mechanics are correct and work well within their own bailiwick, and continue to be taught to students. Similarly, Townes believes growth of religious understanding will modify, but not make us abandon, our classic religious beliefs.
Townes work was published widely in books and peer-reviewed journal articles, including:
Gordon, J.; Zeiger, H.; Townes, Charles (1955). "The Maser—New Type of Microwave Amplifier, Frequency Standard, and Spectrometer". Physical Review. 99 (4): 1264–1274. Bibcode:1955PhRv...99.1264G. doi:10.1103/PhysRev.99.1264.
Shimoda, K.; Wang, T.; Townes, Charles (1956). "Further Aspects of the Theory of the Maser". Physical Review. 102 (5): 1308–1321. Bibcode:1956PhRv..102.1308S. doi:10.1103/PhysRev.102.1308.
Schawlow, Arthur; Townes, Charles (1958). "Infrared and Optical Masers". Physical Review. 112 (6): 1940–1949. Bibcode:1958PhRv..112.1940S. doi:10.1103/PhysRev.112.1940.
Townes, Charles (1999). How the Laser Happened: Adventures Of a Scientist. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-512268-8.
Townes, Charles; Schawlow, Arthur (1955). Microwave Spectroscopy. McGraw-Hill. ISBN 978-0-07-065095-4.
Townes, Charles (1995). Making Waves. Nature. 432. American Institute of Physics Press. pp. 153. doi:10.1038/432153a. ISBN 978-1-56396-381-0. PMID15538346.
^ abcdefghijklm"Charles H. Townes — Biographical". Nobelprize.org. 2006. Retrieved July 29, 2014.
^Staff. "About Charles Townes – Charles H. Townes Lecture Series". www.furman.edu. Furman University. Retrieved May 1, 2020.
^Bertolotti, Mario (2004). The History of the Laser. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-0-7503-0911-0.
^Bromberg, Joan (1991). The Laser in America, 1950–1970. MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-585-36732-3.
^Chiao, Raymond, ed. (1996). Amazing Light: A Volume Dedicated To Charles Hard Townes On His 80th Birthday. Springer. ISBN 978-0-387-94658-0.
^Chiao, Raymond, ed. (2005). Visions of Discovery: New Light on Physics, Cosmology, and Consciousness, A Volume Dedicated to Charles Hard Townes on his 90th Birthday. Cambridge. ISBN 978-0-521-88239-2.
^Haynie, Rachel (2014). First, You Explore: The Story of Young Charles Townes (Young Palmetto Books). University of South Carolina Press. ISBN 978-1-61117-343-7.
^Hecht, Jeff (2005). Beam: The Race to Make the Laser. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-514210-5.
^Hecht, Jeff (1991). Laser Pioneers. Academic Press. ISBN 978-0-12-336030-4.
^Taylor, Nick (2000). Laser: The Inventor, the Nobel Laureate, and the Thirty-Year Patent War. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-684-83515-0.
^Townes, Frances (2007). Misadventures of a Scientist's Wife. Regent Press. ISBN 978-1-58790-128-7.
^"Nobel laureate and laser inventor, Charles Hard Townes, dies at 99". Berkeley.edu. January 27, 2015. Retrieved January 27, 2015.
^ abCharles H. Townes's publications indexed by the Scopus bibliographic database. (subscription required)
^Riess, Suzanne B. (1992). "A Life in Physics: Bell Telephone Laboratories and World War II; Columbia University and the Laser; MIT and Government Service; California and Research in Astrophysics". California Digital Library.
^Aaserud, Finn (May 20, 1987 Charles Townes interview. American Institute of Physics
^Stephen Farnsworth (September 10, 2010). "Notable South Carolinians- Dr. Charles Hard Townes". Indigobluesc.com. Archived from the original on October 23, 2013. Retrieved October 22, 2013.
^"Charles Townes". The Array of Contemporary American Physicists. Archived from the original on February 23, 2016. Retrieved December 30, 2015.
^Townes, Charles (1939). Concentration of the heavy isotope of carbon and measurement of its nuclear spin (PhD thesis). Caltech.
^Townes, Charles (2002). How the lazer Happened. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0195153767.
^"Laser inventor Charles Townes dies". The Guardian. January 29, 2015.
^Chiao, R.; Garmire, E.; Townes, C. (1964). "Self-Trapping of Optical Beams". Physical Review Letters. 13 (15): 479–482. Bibcode:1964PhRvL..13..479C. doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.13.479.
^Schawlow, A.; Townes, C. (1958). "Infrared and Optical Masers". Physical Review. 112 (6): 1940–1949. Bibcode:1958PhRv..112.1940S. doi:10.1103/PhysRev.112.1940.
^Autler, S.; Townes, C. (1955). "Stark Effect in Rapidly Varying Fields". Physical Review. 100 (2): 703–722. Bibcode:1955PhRv..100..703A. doi:10.1103/PhysRev.100.703.
^Danchi, W. C.; Bester, M.; Degiacomi, C. G.; Greenhill, L. J.; Townes, C. H. (1994). "Characteristics of dust shells around 13 late-type stars". The Astronomical Journal. 107: 1469. Bibcode:1994AJ....107.1469D. doi:10.1086/116960.
^"A Letter from America's Physics Nobel Laureates" (PDF). pppl.gov. May 6, 2008.
^Genzel, R; Hollenbach, D; Townes, C H (May 1, 1994). "The nucleus of our Galaxy". Reports on Progress in Physics. 57 (5): 417–479. Bibcode:1994RPPh...57..417G. doi:10.1088/0034-4885/57/5/001. ISSN 0034-4885.
^"The UC Berkeley Infrared Spatial Interferometer". isi.ssl.berkeley.edu. U. C. Berkeley. June 10, 2009. Archived from the original on December 15, 2007. Retrieved May 1, 2020.
^"Celebrating the 100th Birthday of Frances H. Townes". Youth Spirit Artworks. January 16, 2016. Retrieved March 14, 2016.
^Harvard Gazette June 16, 2005 Laser's inventor predicts meeting of science, religion
^ abHenry, David (January 28, 2015). "Pioneer of James Bond's Laser, Dies at 99". Bloomberg. Retrieved July 22, 2015.
^"Charles H. Townes Dies at 99; He Envisioned the Laser, Bringing It Into Daily Life". The New York Times. January 29, 2015. Retrieved January 29, 2015.
^"Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter T" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved April 7, 2011.
^"Comstock Prize in Physics". National Academy of Sciences. Archived from the original on February 16, 2014. Retrieved February 26, 2014.
^"Richtmyer Memorial Award". American Association of Physics Teachers. Retrieved January 28, 2015.
^"John J. Carty Award for the Advancement of Science". National Academy of Sciences. Archived from the original on December 29, 2010. Retrieved February 13, 2011.
^"Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". www.achievement.org.