Charles Hard Townes: Physicist, Inventor & Researcher

Charles Hard Townes was a renowned physicist of his times and did much of the researches and inventions on physics and been awarded for the same. During his career, he even worked when World War II took place on a radar bombing system.

Lots of theories, essays, the thesis was produced by Townes. He spent his whole life experimenting, teaching, and researching quantum electronics related to maser and laser instruments. Besides science, he was interested in natural history, and he used to be a very religious person.

Charles Hard Townes a renowned physicist
Charles Hard Townes a renowned physicist

Towne’s connection to science is remarkable, for which many awards, medals, and Nobel Prizes were given to him. He worked in the U.S. only, but he served another lecturer like Karl Schwarzschild in Germany, Birla and Schroedinger Lecturer in India.

Quick Facts of Charles Hard Townes

Full Name

Charles Hard Townes

Nick Name



July 28, 1915

Age of Death

99 years old (1915 – 2015)


Greenville, South Carolina, United States






California Institute of Technology

Duke University

Greenville Senior High School

Furman University




Nuclear Physicist





Templeton Prize

Frederic Ives Medal

IEEE Medal of Honor

Lomonosov Gold Medal

Noble Prize in Physics

National Medal of Science for Physical Science


How the Laser Happened: Adventures of a Scientist

Microwave Spectroscopy Charles H. Townes

Making Waves Charles H. Townes

Net Worth

$1.5 Million

Early life of Charles Hard Townes

Charles Hard Townes was born in Greenville, South Carolina. He is the son of Ellen Sumter Townes and an attorney, Henry Keith Townes. He was of German ethnic and also of ethnic Scottish, Welsh, French, Scotch Irish ancestry. His schooling was done in his birthplace.

In 1935, he obtained a Bachelor’s dBachelor’shysics and Modern Languages from the Furman University, and a further Master’s degMaster’shysics was earned at Duke University in 1937. He further did his Ph.D. in 1939 from the California Institute of Technology.

Besides science, another characteristic of Townes was his religious faith, and he was once a member of the United Church of Christ. He put his faith in God before conducting lots of science experiments and remained optimistic about taking God and Science alongside.

Career and Research

Charles H. Townes was an interested person. He loved mathematics and enjoyed physics. He found it very appealing and thought the applied science could prove many things, even new items.

Townes began his career as a technical staff right after his Ph.D. at Bell Telephone Laboratories, Inc. in 1939. From 1950-1955 he worked in different positions as a professor, executive director of the Columbia Radiation Laboratory, and Chairperson of the physics department.

He worked on Microwave Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation, trying to develop a new way to create radiation, and by 1955 ‘Microwave S’ectroscopy’ was published by him having A.L. Schawlow as co-author. Later during 1959, both the physicist developed maser more powerful resulting laser.

Townes Powerful Resulting Laser
Townes Powerful Resulting Laser

Townes was on leave during 1959-1961 from Columbia University for serving Research of the Institute for Defense Analyses in Washington as Vice President and Director. That was a non-profitable organization that advised the U.S. government and ran by eleven universities being associated together.

From 1961-1967 he served Massachusetts Institute of Technology as both Provost and Professor of Physics. He then continued to contribute his devotion to physics by being a professor in different universities. He served NASA Science Advisory Committee for the Apollo lunar landing program for five long years.

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Research and Invention of Townes

During the mid-seventies, Townes and Eric Wollman, John Lacy, Thomas Geballe, and Fred Baas studied Sagittarius A, the H II region believed to be at the galactic center infrared wavelength. Sagittarius A was the first black hole detected whose mass has been pronounced to be 4.3 million solar masses.

Pontifical Academy of Sciences appointed him in 1983, and in 1994,  he was even elected as a Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences as a Foreigner. In 1995, a book written by him on waves was published named ‘Making Wave’ (Masters of Modern Physics)’

Townes planned to do his research on radio astronomy after world war II. At that time, other Astronomers were also interested in radio waves, but their interest was limited to their curiosity but not to further research.

The resistance to new ideas was well explained by Townes when it comes to science. Some scientists spent lots of time studying or researching something that if they were introduced new technology to carry out the same work differently, they were resistant to the new procedure.

Among his all inventions and discoveries, maser could be defined as his central creation. This creation had helped to carry out experiments on the quantum level. Maser had brought a revolution in the communication sector like the device is used in long distant radar, radio astronomy, and microwave communication.

Townes was one of the team members who first researched complex molecules in space and ascertained the black hole’s mass at the Galaxy’s Milky Way. His last major technological invention was the Infrared Spatial Interferometer, along with other scientists. The project involved three mobile infrared detectors.

Awards and Honors

Townes’s major of developing maser and his research on quantum electronics had been recognized and appreciated that he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1964. He shared the award with two scientists named N.G.Basov and Aleksandr Prokhorov independently worked on the invention of a similar device.

He was awarded the Comstock Prize in Physics, The Richtmyer Memorial Award, The David Sarnoff Electronics award and the Rumford Prize, the Henry Norris Russell Lectureship, the Telluride Tech Festival Award of Technology, the Templeton Prize, the Golden Goose Award, and more from 1956-2012.

Charles Hard Townes receiving Award
Charles Hard Townes receiving Award

The medals received by Townes were Stuart Ballantine Medal, Wilhelm Exner Medal, Lomonosov Gold Medal, SPIE Gold Medal, and Nancy Deloye Fitzroy Roland V. Fitzroy Medal during 1962-2012.

On May 24th, 2008, an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from the University of Redlands, and on May 14th, 2011, an Honorary Doctorate of Science from Texas A&M University was given to Townes.

Publications of Charles Hard Townes

Townes wrote a thesis on the concentration of the heavy isotope of carbon and measurement of its nuclear spin-in 1939. However, his works were widely published in a book and as an article.

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In 1955, ‘The Maser-New type of microwave Amplifier, Frequency standard and Spectrometer, in 1956, ‘Further Aspects of the Theory of the Maser,’ 1958, “infrared an’ Optical Masers,’ in 1999, “ow the Laser happened’ were published.

Personal Life & Legacy

Townes was born in a well-off family where the members were educated. He was inspired by his uncle, who was chairman of the electrical engineer, once he gave him a radio he used to examined and tend to create crystal radio when he was in high school.

Townes got married to a homeless activist, Frances H. Brown, in 1941. He met her through his friends when Frances was looking for someone to accompany her for a ski trip. The couple lived in Berkeley, California, with their four daughters, Linda Rosewein, Ellen Anderson, Carla Kessler, and Holly Townes.

Charles Hard Townes Teaching Physicist
Charles Hard Townes Teaching Physicist

Townes was a very religious person and was a member of the United Church of Christ. Many scientific experiments were carried out by him with his belief and optimism over his faith in God. God and science go parallelly were what he used to feel.

On January 27th, 2015, Townes left this earth in Oakland, California, at the age of Ninety-nine on the route to the hospital. Even before he died, he was still employed at the UCB campus or Space Sciences Laboratory. He was forever remembered for his contribution to science, and his awards and honor made his leadership and contribution remarkable.

Net Worth of Charles Hard Townes

Townes, the distinct Physicist net worth is estimated to be $1.5 million.

Charles Hard Townes Quotes

  • I strongly believe in the existence of God, based on intuition, observations, logic, and also scientific knowledge.
  • The beaver told the rabbit as they stared at the Hoover Dam: No, I didn’t build it myself, but it’s based on an idea of mine.
  • We can’t avoid age. However, we can avoid some aging. Continue to do things. Be active. Life is fantastic in the way it adjusts to demands; if you use your muscles and mind, they stay there much longer.
  • The development of science is basically a social phenomenon, dependent on hard work and mutual support of many scientists and on the societies in which they live.
  • Much public thinking follows a rut. The same thing is true in science. People get stuck and don’t look in other directions.
  • The late Richard Feynman, a superb physicist, said once as we talked about the laser that the way to tell a great idea is that, when people hear it, they say, ‘Gee, I could have thought of that.
  • It’s almost a sort of fairy story tale, just what a novelist would write about a discovery.

Also Check: Max Born: The Quantum Physicist and Nobel Prize Winner


  1. What did Charles Hard Townes invent?

Ans: Charles H. Townes, a renowned physicist who invented the laser and the maser, died in Oakland, California on Tuesday at the age of 99. Townes’ inventions earned him the Nobel Prize in physics in 1964.

  1. What very important award did Dr. Townes earn?

Ans: In 1964, Dr. Townes and two Russians shared the Nobel Prize in Physics for their work on microwave-emitting devices, called masers, and their light-emitting successors, lasers, which have transformed modern communications, medicine, astronomy, weapons systems and daily life in homes and workplaces.

  1. When did Charles Hard Townes die?

Ans: Charles Hard Townes died in January 27, 2015.

  1. What does maser stand for?

Ans: The first maser was built by the American physicist Charles H. Townes and his colleagues in 1953. The name is an acronym derived from “microwave (or molecular) amplification by stimulated emission of radiation.” Maser.

  1. What is difference between laser and maser?

Ans: The difference between a laser and a maser is that the photon from a laser comes in the form of visible light, while a photon from a maser comes in the form of a microwave.

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