Charles Hard Townes | History of SC Slide Collection

Charles Hard Townes

Charles Hard Townes (1915-2015 ) is South Carolina's only Nobel Prize winner, an honor he was awarded for his development of the laser. This photograph shows him accepting that award in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1964. Born in Greenville County in 1915, Towne was educated at Furman University, then left South Carolina to study physics at Duke and the California Institute of Technology, where he received his Ph.D. in 1939. Working first at Bell Telephone Laboratories, then in radar development during the war, and finally as a faculty member at Columbia University and MIT, Towne studied the question of how atoms and molecules absorb radio waves, and in 1958 published and patented (with his brother-in-law Arthur Schawlaw) the idea that led to the construction in 1960 of the first successful laser. Elected to the South Carolina Hall of Fame, he was honored in 1986 by having the science hall, displaying the versatility of his laser invention, at the new South Carolina State Museum named for him.

Courtesy of the South Carolina State Museum.

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