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Laser Pioneer Townes Wins ‘Golden Goose’ Award

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WASHINGTON, Sept. 17, 2012 — Nobel laureate and laser pioneer Charles H. Townes is among the eight recipients of a new award celebrating researchers whose seemingly odd or obscure federally funded research turned out to have a significant impact on society.

The first Golden Goose awards were presented in a Sept. 13 ceremony on Capitol Hill by a bipartisan group of Congress members.

Charles H. TownesTownes, a physicist whose work led to the creation of the laser, was chosen because, "for a decade-long stretch of his career ... [he] had to fight to convince others of the possibility, and the value, of the seemingly obscure technique of amplifying waves of radiation into an intense, continuous stream," the awards committee said. His colleagues at Columbia University told him directly that they thought he was wasting the university's money.

In 1953, Townes, James Gordon and H.J. Zeiger built the first maser (microwave amplification by stimulated emission of radiation). About five years later, Townes and Arthur Schawlow published a paper saying that the maser’s principles could be applied to amplifying radiation at the frequencies of visible light, introducing the principle of laser technology.

Townes received a Nobel Prize for his work in 1964, after Theodore Maiman built the first laser and its value became apparent.

The seven other recipients were honored for their work on glowing jellyfish (Martin Chalfie, Roger Tsien and Osamu Shimomura) and tropical coral (Eugene White, Rodney White, Della Roy and the late Jon Weber).

The Golden Goose Award, which is expected to become an annual event, was the idea of Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN). It was created and jointly launched by a coalition of organizations that believe that federally funded basic scientific research is the cornerstone of American innovation and is essential to its economic growth, health, global competitiveness and national security. Those founding organizations include the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the Association of American Universities, The Science Coalition and the Task Force on American Innovation.

"We should honor, not mock, scientists," Cooper said. "Like the fabled golden goose, today's awardees gave unexpected gifts to mankind. Budget cutbacks must be made, but science should be spared."

"The unexpected benefits of basic research have been huge, a point well demonstrated by the work of the first Golden Goose awardees," said AAAS CEO Dr. Alan Leshner.

The recipients were selected by a panel of scientists and university research leaders.

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Sep 2012
An acronym for microwave amplification by stimulated emission of radiation. Predecessor to the laser, the maser or 'microwave laser' was the first device to produce coherent electromagnetic waves, and was done at microwave frequencies through amplification by stimulated emission. A laser (light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation) is a maser that works over a broader range of higher frequency photons in the ultraviolet and visible portion of the electromagnetic spectrum.
AAASAlan LeshnerAmericasAssociation of American UniversitiesCharles H. TownescoraldefenseDella RoyEugene Whiteglowing jellyfishGolden Goose AwardH.J. ZeigerJames GordonJim CooperJon WeberlasersMartin Chalfiemasermicrowave amplification by stimulated emission of radiationNobel PrizeOsamu ShimomuraResearch & TechnologyRodney WhiteRoger TsienTask Force on American InnovationTheodore Maiman

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