Clemson Honors Nobel Laureate Charles H. Townes with Optical Science Laboratories Dedication

October 28, 2008

CLEMSON,SC – October 28, 2008  — Clemson University Tuesday celebrated its long-time connection with Nobel Prize-winner Charles H. Townes by naming its state-of-the-art optical science laboratories in his honor.

Townes was joined by his wife, Frances, and together they unveiled the sign for the Charles H. Townes Laboratories for Optical Science and Engineering located at the Advanced Materials Research Laboratory in the Clemson University Advanced Materials Center. Townes is most well known for his research that led to the development of the laser, for which he received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1964. (See Charles H. Townes’ biography.)

“It is an honor to return to Clemson to see the establishment of the Townes Laboratories,” he said. “Facilities such as these enable future generations of students who have a dream to go beyond science as we know it today.”

The dedication follows the 2005 creation of the Townes Fellows program, a joint effort by Clemson and Furman universities to bring Furman undergraduates to Clemson to conduct optics research with the COMSET (Center for Optical Materials Science and Engineering Technologies) program.

Clemson has major initiatives in optical materials, bio-optics and laser technology while Furman is renowned for strong undergraduate programs in physics and chemistry. This premier program in the United States is comprised of research and educational initiatives centered on optical sciences and engineering. The first student to participate in the program now is a graduate student at Clemson.

A native of Greenville, Townes received his undergraduate degrees in literature and physics from Furman. He received the Nobel Prize for physics in 1964 for his research on the maser (microwave amplification by stimulation emission of radiation), which led to the invention of the laser, one of the most significant scientific discoveries of the 20th Century. Lasers are used in nearly all aspects of life today, including fiberoptics communications, laser processing in the manufacture of automobiles and many other commercial products, ophthalmology, medicine, defense and space applications.

Townes has received numerous international accolades over his career. Chris Przirembel, Clemson’s vice president for research and economic development, noted that Clemson was among the first to acknowledge Townes’ achievements with an honorary degree in 1963.

“The Nobel Prize Committee followed our lead in 1964 by awarding Dr. Townes that most impressive and well-deserved award,” he joked.

On a more serious note, Przirembel added: “What an honor it is to have the name and the inspiration of Dr. Townes associated with this laboratory complex and with this program. I can think of no greater example for our students and faculty to follow as they pursue the future of optical science and engineering. His contribution to the world of optics is inestimable, and his personal examples of the pursuit of science and of a life well-lived are unmatched.”

Townes has continued an informal connection with Clemson over the years. He returned to the university in February 2000 to deliver the Godfrey Distinguished Lectures in Astrophysics. And two Clemson faculty members, Przirembel and Caron St. John, director of the Arthur M. Spiro Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership, received the Charles H. Townes Individual Achievement Award from InnoVision, an Upstate organization that promotes excellence and leadership in technology.

John Ballato, COMSET director and associate vice president for research and economic development, spearheaded the move to name the laboratories for Townes. He said the association is powerful.

“Dr. Townes has spent his distinguished career committed to educating future generations,” said Ballato. “We are deeply grateful that his name will be associated with our program as a daily reminder of what has been and can be achieved. Dr. Townes is the first to remind students that they too possess the ability to make the next great discovery.”

In addition to being a Nobel Prize laureate, Townes also is a Templeton Prize recipient for contributions to the understanding of religion.

A lot will be happening in the next 50 years, Townes said. We will be modifying humans and our genetics. We need to ask, ‘do we want to do that?; ask how and why. It will bring responsibilities. Let’s see us use those new powers well.

Since 1967, Townes has been a professor of physics at the University of California at Berkeley, where he and Mrs. Townes live.