Dr. Charles H. Townes Speech – Revisited

Dr. Townes and the first maser

The human mind has given us some of the most outstanding achievements throughout history. As our thirst for knowledge and understanding continues to grow, new ideas are born. One of those great minds was Charles Hard Townes, the inventor of the maser, the precursor to the laser. Dr. Townes wasn’t just an inventor but also a patriot serving his country in war and a brilliant university professor. During World War II, he worked under Bell Labs as a radar technician in the hope that his expertise would turn the tables on the enemy. This effort would give birth to the shortest wavelength radar by seeing the effects of light on it. Upon returning from the Navy, he would lead a research team at Columbia University, where he and his team would study molecules.

After becoming a professor at Columbia, he and his dedicated students would design a molecule oscillator that would be endlessly argued over. From the discussion with his students, Townes and others arrived at their latest invention — the maser, Microwave Amplification by Stimulated Emission Radiation. Dr. Townes was an example that both patients and trial and error can lead to remarkable discovery and creation. In October 2010, Dr. Townes give a speech at Lenox Laser during our one of our light seminars entitled “How New Things Happen.” During the speech, he mentioned that ideas often happen by accident. Those accidents can involve a network of people. One’s patience can be rewarded in unexpected ways while still reaching your goal in the end.

Townes’s legacy and contributions to history remain greatly appreciated and never forgotten. Please visit the Industrial Institute of Optics to read or watch Dr. Townes’s speech in its entirety.

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