A Bench and Courtyard for a Nobel Prize Moment

Berkeley Physics honors the legacy of Charles Hard Townes

Tuesday, July 28, 2015 to Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The venerable oak tree that graced the courtyard between Le Conte and Birge Halls at UC Berkeley for the past 75 years was lost to rain and wind in December 2014. The tree watched over innumerable student gatherings through the years, and served as an iconic witness to the history of physics at Berkeley.

Charles Hard Townes, Nobel Laureate and Professor Emeritus, could see the oak tree from his Birge Hall office window. His death in January 2015, so soon after it fell, evoked a compelling acknowledgement of the symbolism between the  “two elders” of the department and inspiration each had provided.

When discussing his life and accomplishments, Townes would often share a story about a revelatory moment that led to his 1964 Nobel Prize and the development of the laser. In 1951, while sitting on a park bench in Washington D.C. he was struck by the solution to a long-standing problem of how to create a pure beam of short-wavelength, high frequency light.   It was an epiphany that changed the world.

Berkeley Physics and the Senior Class of 2016 plan to honor that moment and the legacy of Charles Hard Townes by placing a symbolic bench in the Birge-Le Conte courtyard. A new grove of trees will replace the historic old oak and landscaping will reflect another interest of Townes, that of bird watching.

A plaque will share the story of Townes' revelation that spring afternoon in 1951 and encourage Berkeley students to sit, contemplate and have their own breakthrough moment –and perhaps even win a Nobel Prize.


Please see our web pages on Charles Townes:
"A Life Dedicated to Science" and "Memories of Professor Charles Townes".


To support this Senior Class Project and gift in honor of Charles Townes
please visit physics.berkeley.edu or call (510) 642-3355.
Contributions are welcome and tax deductible.
University of California Foundation/Tax ID #94-6090626.

Online contributions can be made on the Give to Berkeley website

Download a printable version of the Townes Courtyard Fact Sheet.

Download a printable version of the Townes Graduate Fellowship Fact Sheet.