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Charles T. Townes, Inventor of the Laser and Greenville Native, Passes Away at 99

January 29, 2015

Charles Hard Townes, an industry pioneer who shared the 1964 Nobel Prize in Physics for the invention of the laser, passed away early Tuesday morning. In honor of Dr. Townes, a native of Greenville, S.C., we would like to share the following biography courtesy of Dr. John Ballato, Clemson University’s Vice President for Economic Development, noted optical expert and professor of materials science and engineering:  

Charles Townes, a native of Greenville, SC and recipient of the 1964 Nobel Prize in Physics for the invention of the maser (predecessor to the laser) was not only a giant in the scientific community but was an example to all South Carolinians as to the art of the possible. Aside from being a very humble and deeply centered man, Dr. Townes’ impact has been not just been global but has and will be indelible. The laser, which he once called “a solution looking for a problem” indeed has found its role in medicine, manufacturing, communications, security, and a stunning number of other fields. The economic impact of light – annually – is a staggering $7.5 trillion and growing.

Closer to home, Dr. Townes received an honorary degree from Clemson in 1963 – the year before his Nobel Prize. He later permitted our internationally recognized optics program, COMSET, to name its laser labs at the Advanced Materials Research Laboratory (Anderson, SC) after him; see: http://www.clemson.edu/centers-institutes/comset/townes.html

Also available on the web-page is a must-read; his commencement address entitled “The Next 50 Years” in which he lays out his vision for the future from the vantage point of 1963. Remarkable forethought and written like poetry.

Dr. Townes was a 1935 graduate of Furman University. 

“The Furman community has lost a giant today,” said Furman President Elizabeth Davis in a online statement. “Charles Townes’ scientific explorations and path-breaking discoveries changed our world in wondrous ways, and new uses of the technology are unfolding even today. He represented the very best that Furman offers to the world—an individual of rare intelligence and unbounded curiosity, the courage to explore the unknown, the wisdom to serve humankind, an abiding faith that sustained him, and a generosity that has enriched each new generation of students here.”

The Greenville News: Dr. Charles Townes’ Search for Answers Changed Our World

The New York Times: Charles H. Townes Dies at 99; He Envisioned the Laser, Bringing It Into Daily Life

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