A Life Dedicated to Science

Tuesday, January 27, 2015 to Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Nobel laureate and laser inventor Charles Townes dies at 99

Charles Hard Townes, a professor emeritus of physics at the University of California, Berkeley, who shared the 1964 Nobel Prize in Physics for invention of the laser and subsequently pioneered the use of lasers in astronomy, died early Tuesday, Jan. 27. He was 99 and in failing health, and died on his way to the hospital.

“Charles Townes embodies the best of Berkeley; he’s a great teacher, great researcher and great public servant,” said UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks on the occasion of a campuswide celebration of Townes’ 99th birthday last July 28. “As we celebrate this 99-year milestone and a career spanning nearly 80 years, we can only be impressed by the range of his intellectual curiosity, his persistence and his pioneering spirit.”  

Until last year, Townes visited the campus daily, working either in his office in the physics department or at the Space Sciences Laboratory.

“Charlie was a cornerstone of the Space Sciences Laboratory for almost 50 years,” said Stuart Bale, director of the lab and a UC Berkeley professor of physics. “He trained a great number of excellent students in experimental astrophysics and pioneered a program to develop interferometry at short wavelengths. He was a truly inspiring man and a nice guy. We’ll miss him.”   Read entire article here.


Important Links

Share your memories of Charles Townes!

Charles Townes Obituaries can be read here.

Read the Pontificia Accademia delle Scienze Letter to Academicians.

Charles Townes' life in photos.

BBC interview on Charles Townes with Reinhard Genzel

An interview with Professor Townes at LaserFest.

Charles Townes' Complete Academic Biography, List of Important Discoveries, and Complete List of Publications

Charles Townes' Nobel Prize biography.

Read about the history of the laser.

More on Professor Townes' role at UC Berkeley.

Read about Professor Townes' 99th Birthday Celebration.

BBC radio interview on Charles Townes

NPR Stardate on Charles Townes


Nobel Laureate and Professor Emeritus Charles Hard Townes was a loving husband, wonderful father of four daughters and a man of faith. 

His family has asked that gifts in his name be directed to these organizations and funds:


The Charles Hard Townes Graduate Fellowship 

The Charles H. Townes Graduate Fellowship fund is an endowment, the payout of which will support high-achieving graduate students in the Department of Physics at the University of California, Berkeley. Recipients shall be full-time graduate students who demonstrate high academic distinction - with a preference for women candidates. Prospective recipients will be identified, screened, and selected by the Chair of the Department of Physics or his/her designated representative. 

Make a contribution >


More details about Lasers, Light and Legacy here.


Robert Sanders