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  • Laser Inventor Honored for Lifetime Achievement
Apr 2006
WASHINGTON, April 28, 2006 -- Nobel Prize-winning physicist Charles Townes, credited as the father of quantum electronics, has been selected by the National Science Board — the policy making arm of the National Science Foundation (NSF) — to receive the Vannevar Bush Award for his lifetime contribution to science. The award will be presented May 9 at a dinner to be held at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington.

Townes.jpgTownes, 90, is a professor in the graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley. He invented the maser (microwave amplificiation by stimulated emission of radiation) and its optical counterpart, the laser, kick-starting a new generation of modern communications, global networks and photonics science and technology. Now credited as the father of quantum electronics, Townes' work has led to developments such as atomic clocks and the ultrasensitive radio receivers that were part of the first communications satellites.

The National Science Board is a 24-member body of policy advisors to the president and Congress on science and engineering research matters. The board established the Vannevar Bush Award in 1980 to honor his unique contributions to public service. Bush was a prominent science adviser to the president and wrote a report that steered government science policy beyond World War II into a more modern era and made the case for establishing what became the National Science Foundation.

Townes receives the award just over a century after Einstein's 1905 epochal paper on the "photoelectric effect." While electronics emerged not long afterward, it was not until nearly 50 years later that Townes defined some of the practical applications of Einstein's insight. In 1964, Townes shared the Nobel Prize in physics with Alexander M. Prokhorov and Nikolai G. Basov for the invention of the maser, a device that amplifies and produces an intense collimated beam of microwaves, and for showing how similar amplification could be achieved with visible light to yield a laser, a term he coined. His research opened the door for an array of inventions and discoveries now in common use throughout the world in areas including medicine, telecommunications, electronics and computers.

Townes has spent the last 39 years working at UC Berkeley. In addition to his scientific achievements, he has also served many governmental organizations. He was vice president and director of research of The Institute for Defense Analysis and vice chair of the President's Science Advisory Committee, and he organized and chaired the Science and Technology Advisory Committee for Manned Space flight from 1964 until after the first Apollo landing in 1970. He also chaired NASA's Space Program Advisory Council and was a member of the Defense Science Board in the 1980s. Last year he received the $1.5 million Templeton Prize, which honors and encourages those who advance knowledge in spiritual matters.

Townes is the 25th recipient of the Bush Award; also receiving the honor at the May 9 ceremony will be Raj Reddy, founding director of the nation's first robotics laboratory, The Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. Reddy's seminal work is in human-computer interaction, artificial intelligence and other integrated computing innovations.

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