Reflections of a Laser Pioneer

Dr. Charles Townes

From the annual meeting of the American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery

It turns out that the man credited with the invention of the laser as we know it today had no intentions of the using the device in medicine. “I didn’t foresee that,” confessed Dr. Charles H. Townes, who in 1954 first demonstrated the use of what became the laser. Only then it was called “maser,” an acronym for microwave amplification by stimulated emission of radiation. “But I could foresee a lot of applications which I knew where there. My primary objective was scientific,” he said. “I wanted a new tool to do high resolution spectroscopy.” 

Dr. Townes, currently a professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley, went on to publish the theoretical principles of the laser and in 1964 earned the Nobel Prize in physics for the achievement. On hand to be honored by the ASLMS for his lifetime work in the field of laser research, the 94-year-old Dr. Townes told meeting attendees that some of his scientific peers in the 1950s doubted that he’d be able to put his ideas into practice, considering him “stupid and wrong.”

How wrong they were. 

–Doug Brunk (on Twitter@dougbrunk)

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