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Charles Townes honored with 2010 SPIE Gold Medal of the Society

25 February 2010

Laser pioneer Charles Hard Townes, University of California, Berkeley, California, USA, is the 2010 recipient of the SPIE Gold Medal of the Society. Townes is honored in recognition of his extraordinary foresight in recognizing the potential of the laser and coherent light 50 years ago, for his pursuit of the requisite scientific inquiry to turn lasers into one of the most potentially disruptive technologies of the 21st century and finally for his pioneering scientific contributions to the fields of optics, lasers, astronomy and molecular spectroscopy.

"It could not be more befitting that we bestow our Society's highest honor on the person whose invention of the concept of the maser and the laser a half century ago has had more impact on the technologies that drive our Society and our members than any other," said M.J. Soileau, Vice President for Research & Commercializationat The School of Optics & Photonics (CREOL) at the University of Central Florida, and the SPIE 2008 Gold Medal award winner. "It therefore seems appropriate that SPIE, one of the world's leading professional societies in optics, lasers and photonics, recognizes Townes' many achievement in the year of 2010, the 50th anniversary of the first demonstration of the laser."

Charles Townes' many contributions to science are well-known. His invention of the concept of the maser in 1951, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize together with Nikolai Basov and Alexandr Prokhorov, and subsequently of the laser with Arthur Schawlow, resulted from over a decade of research in microwave physics and spectroscopy at Bell Labs and Columbia University. Together with James Gordon and Herbert Zeiger he demonstrated the first maser in 1954, for the first time showing the generation and amplification of electromagnetic waves by stimulated emission. Since then we have seen the laser develop into a near-trillion dollar industry that now affects a multitude of technologies and many aspects of modern life.

"Many treatises, books and articles have summarized the life and accomplishments of Charles Townes, yet a casual observer of the scientific scene might be forgiven for not recognizing the many contributions this great man has made to science and our society. As one might say, "it is hard to take the measure of the man," said Martin Richardson, Director of the Townes Laser Institute at the University of Central Florida. "Compared to other notables in science, he carries the mantle of greatness surprisingly lightly. His quiet, respectful even deferential demeanor is disarming. The roots of this deference lie in his fundamental interests in life, his attitudes towards science and society, and his deep beliefs about where we fit into the universe. As one studies the life and the times of this man, one cannot but learn lessons on how we scientists should approach these larger issues."

In addition to the 1964 Nobel Prize in Physics, Townes has received numerous honors and awards. He has more than 20 honorary degrees, is an honorary member of many national and internationals scientific societies and has received many of their highest awards.

Townes is an SPIE Fellow of the Society, and has authored numerous papers, served as symposium chair and presented at many SPIE meetings.

The Gold Medal of the Society is the highest honor the Society bestows. Beginning in 1977, it has been awarded annually in recognition of outstanding engineering or scientific accomplishments in optics, electro-optics, or photographic technologies or applications. The recipient(s) shall have made an exceptional contribution to the advancement of relevant technology. An honorarium of $10,000 will be presented.

For more information on this year's recipient and past winners, visit http://spie.org/x3077.xml.

SPIE presents several yearly awards that recognize outstanding individual and team technical accomplishments and meritorious service to the Society. SPIE urges you to nominate a colleague for his or her outstanding achievements. Nominations may be made through October 1 of any given year and are considered active for three years from the submission date. Visit SPIE.org/x1164.xml for instructions and nomination forms.

SPIE the international society for optics and photonics was founded in 1955 to advance light-based technologies. Serving more than 188,000 constituents from 138 countries, the Society advances emerging technologies through interdisciplinary information exchange, continuing education, publications, patent precedent, and career and professional growth. SPIE annually organizes and sponsors approximately 25 major technical forums, exhibitions, and education programs in North America, Europe, Asia, and the South Pacific, and supports scholarships, grants, and other education programs around the world.